In Loudoun County, mental health support is a team effort.
The safety net is a collaboration of county government programs, not-for-profit medical groups like Inova Loudoun Hospital, and just a handful of charitable groups who offer mental health support.
In a county with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, just a few are dedicated to providing Loudoun residents financial help and therapy to recover from and cope with mental illness.
Amy Owen, executive director of the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, said mental health is one of the least-serviced needs within the local nonprofit sector. “I think it’s one of the significant charitable voids in Loudoun County,” she said.
The only nonprofit organization that primarily exists to provide mental health services also happens to be one of the county’s longest-serving charities. Friends of Loudoun Mental Health started in 1955, when mental illness was rarely talked about and often combatted with a “get over it” sentiment, said Katrina Cole, president of the organization’s board of directors.
Friends of Loudoun Mental Health’s mission is to provide help, from everyday expenses to connecting clients to the right treatment providers, so that individuals battling mental illness can become contributing members of society.
The group dedicates every grant it receives to a program called A Place to Call Home, which provides subsidized rent for up to three months. “It’s our way of stepping in to prevent people with mental illness from becoming homeless,” she said. “The National Institute of Mental Health says a stable living environment is paramount for someone to recover from a mental illness.”
A few months of support usually gives their clients enough time to work with a therapist and find a stable job. In the past year, A Place to Call Home has served 24 people, most of them are women with children. In that time, they had to turn 15 people away. “The need is out there,” Cole said.
A second program, A Helping Hand, provides people disabled by mental illnesses with small loans and one-time gifts to help meet temporary financial needs, everything from a check to cover utilities or cash to buy boots for the winter season. The group also offers peer to peer support groups, including one that is for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
In the eight years that Cole has worked with Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, she’s seen mental illness gradually become less taboo of a topic. Some of that sea change was helped by famous people like Bruce Springsteen, Wayne Brady and Glenn Close speaking up about their experiences. “All these people are successful and are coming out and saying ‘yes, I have a mental illness and I deal with it,” Cole said. “Previously, someone’s image of a person with mental illness was they were in an institution. … They didn’t realize that you could have a mental illness and be successful with the right treatment.”
Cole is just as open to talking about her struggles with mental health. After she was diagnosed with depression at 30 years old, she spent time in therapy, was on medication for some time and is now off medication. “There are some days when I wake up and I just don’t want to get out of bed, but I know what I need to do personally to keep moving forward,” she said.
Her experiences have fueled her passion for helping others with mental illness.
Several other Loudoun-based nonprofits provide mental health services as part of their overall offerings. For example, HealthWorks for Northern Virginia provides behavioral health support for every one of its 15,000 primary care patients.
HealthWorks is a comprehensive medical home, meaning that their staff provides integrated treatment for medical, dental, nutrition counseling, prescription assistance and behavioral health care. They work closely with Loudoun County’s Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services and Inova Loudoun Hospital, referring patients to the programs that will best meet their needs.
Carol Jameson, chief executive officer of HealthWorks, said the organization’s treatment model is to meet patients’ immediate need. “If they’re hungry, if they’re anxious about finding a job, we do a case management plan and help link them with community services. And then we go beyond that immediate need for other treatment, and that might be for depression or other mental health struggles.”
Every HealthWorks patient is screened for depression, she added. “We want to capture folks even if they’re not saying ‘I’d like to see someone about mental health.’ So we can start working with them on some of the things before they escalate,” Jameson said. “It’s so important for us to have those expanded services beyond primary care, because there is a real need for more behavioral health services in the county.”
Over the next several months, as part of the Community Foundation’s Faces of Loudoun campaign, Loudoun Now will run monthly articles highlighting men, women and children who have found a helping hand when they needed it most and the Loudoun County charities that provided it.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
The Loudoun County Library system will hold several programs to inform and encourage during Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The first is at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Purcellville Library, and will feature students from The Birds of a Feather School, who will reveal how the creative process brings joy and healing. The second is a discussion called “In Our Own Voice,” featuring two adults living with a mental health condition, sharing their inspiring personal stories toward recovery. It begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at Rust Library in Leesburg and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 20, at Cascades Library in Sterling. See the full program list at library.loudoun.gov/MHAM.