Sunday, December 1, 2013

We want Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe to follow the guidelines recommended by the advocacy group Treatment Advocacy Center, and ensure that Virginia has a sufficient number of beds to handle the needs of its citizens—50 beds per 100,000 people.

Dear Editor: Another family tragedy occurred last week when Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds’ son, Gus, suffering from mental illness, stabbed his dad, and then took his own life. Our hearts broke over the mass shootings in Columbine, Blacksburg, Aurora, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, and at the D.C. Navy Yard. And now this.

Gus is only 24 years old, the son of a prominent, well-liked politician—a family who sought help, and by many news accounts, was turned away.

We have to stop turning our backs on those with mental illness. It affects one in four Americans and severe mental illnesses, like bipolar and schizophrenia, affect 3 percent to 5 percent of the population. Each of us likely knows someone suffering from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder or any number of illnesses that affect our brains.

Kevin Breel, in his Confessions of a Depressed Comic at TEDxKids talk, says it best: “We are so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains.” It’s no wonder that the video, posted just six months ago by the 19 year old, has 1.5 million views. We think Kevin is right. If Gus had a heart attack, would they have sent him home?

According to a 2011 report by Virginia’s Inspector General, nearly 100 people in a six-month period were not able to access the acute crisis services they needed—even though they were evaluated by a licensed mental health clinician as needing them and required by state statute to receive them—because the services literally didn't exist. Virginia’s solution for some people who asked for help was to “street” them—a term the mental health community uses when they make patients go home or wait in an emergency department for an unknown period of time, or even, in some cases, send them to jail. Can you imagine having a heart attack and being told these are your options? Then why do we do it when it comes to mental health? We think much of it has to do with the stigma attached to mental illness.

Our show, This Is My Brave, a stage production of people standing up to share their stories of mental illness, is based on the simple belief that each of us can make a difference. Each voice speaking up about mental illness begins to chip away at the stigma. We’re extending that belief that each of us can make a difference with a petition for better services for the mentally ill. We want Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe to follow the guidelines recommended by the advocacy group Treatment Advocacy Center, and ensure that Virginia has a sufficient number of beds to handle the needs of its citizens—50 beds per 100,000 people. In 2012, Virginia had 17.6 beds per 100,000 people. Our Change.org petition request full funding of our hospitals with beds for psychiatric patients so they can be the net that those struggling with mental illness need in a crisis.

Each of us can make a difference—one signature at a time. And when you click the “sign here” button, think of Gus, and all the other Gus’ of Virginia. We can do better for them.

- Anne Marie Ames and Jennifer Killi Marshall, Ashburn

Letter: Anne Marie Ames and Jennifer Killi Marshall, Ashburn - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: Letters

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