Hometown experts say need for mental health help rises; help is limited

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 6:05 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The need for mental health services is great. The help is limited.

“Unfortunately nationwide there’s a massive shortage,” said Dr. Norah Silver of LewisGale Medical Center’s Department for Behavioral Health.

The provider shortage is one of the main challenges our panel of experts, gathered in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, pointed to during Wednesday’s discussion - to say nothing of the effects of the pandemic.

“We have seen an overall feeling of isolation and loneliness and that has contributed to depression, also an increase in anxiety, because people are afraid to get sick,” said Margaret Twigg, a License Professional Counselor and Clinical Team Lead for LewisGale’s Behavioral Health Outpatient Services.

Salem’s Chief of Police Mike Crawley said when they step in to help, there often are not enough resources to treat the people they encounter, many of whom they’ve tried to help before.

“Because a lot of time we’re encountering them at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning and it’s during a crisis,” he explained, adding, “It seems like when they’re doing well in facility, everything is great. And then they get back out into society and all the pressures of life are reoccurring, that’s when the issues come and that’s probably when they need the most assistance at that time.”

Dr. Silver said nationwide, there has been an enormous increase in the number of children seeking mental health support services through emergency departments.

“Unfortunately there just aren’t enough beds available in hospitals and not a whole lot of community resources,” she explained.

According to the Virginia Mental Health Access Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health, 51,000 children who have had major depressive episodes did not receive mental health treatment in Virginia.

While there is work to do, there are bright spots giving these experts hope.

Drew Taylor, Counselor and Associate Director for Roanoke College’s Student Health and Counseling Services, said stigma surrounding mental health among students seems to be ebbing.

“Of course college students nowadays are from a different generation and they seem to think differently,” he explained. “They seem really willing to prioritize their wellness. They seem really willing to say, ‘Hey I’m overwhelmed.’ And they seem really interested in learning about their options for treatment and how they can access that, where they can access that. There still are going to be people who are hesitant to reach out and there is some stigma in the community, but I think our younger folks are the champions of that.”

And while COVID hindered so much, the help it did provide included fast tracking tele-medicine.

“So that has been very helpful especially with the shortage of providers,” said Twigg, with Dr. Silver adding it also aids those who struggle with consistent access to transportation.

The push for services also has agencies like the Salem Police Department looking inward to help address the mental health of those responding to crisis.

The mental health of our practitioners, police officers and 9-1-1 dispatchers. They’re human, too,” Chief Crawley said. “We assume that over and over again they’ll respond to other people in crisis. Well they may have their own internal crisis. And so looking forward, I think we’re looking to have some wellness visits for our employees. I think that will help us better serve our communities, our 9-1-1 telecommunicators. The folks who take those calls for those in a crisis. So I think a lot of good things are going on, and it’s going to continue to grow, but I think the first step is the awareness.”

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