United Way attempts to increase mental health dialogue

By Katie Demeria

In response to a national incentive, the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley has released a report outlining the ways in which mental health should be addressed in the area.

According to United Way President Joe Shtulman, it all comes down to dialogue.

“I think it’s really important for our community to understand the issue of mental illness and how it affects individuals and families,” Shtulman said. “There’s a lot of confusion about mental illness, and there’s a stigma attached to it that affects the ability for people to access services.”

The Mental Health Dialogue Project is the United Way’s response to what it has seen after holding multiple community forums regarding mental health.

The effort was also spurred by recommendations from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, made following the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012.

“We don’t want that to happen in our community, and there are very good programs and services to help people right here in the Northern Shenandoah Valley,” Shtulman said.

Though the efforts the United Way is making in increasing dialogue are for individuals of all ages, Shtulman stressed the importance of encouraging young people to pay close attention to their mental health and seek help when needed.

“Right now, 60 percent of young people are not getting treatment,” Shtulman said. “They’re depressed, they’re angry, and they’re, in some cases, becoming violent.”

The United Way is part of a group called Creating Community Solutions and will be participating in an initiative on April 24 called a National Text-Talk.

“It’s a way of talking about mental illness and finding out what other people across the country are doing,” Shtulman said. “When they text, they’re connected, and they can relate to people in other communities. It’s geared toward young people, but anyone can join.”

Groups of four to five people can get together and text the number 89800. They will be sent polling questions, which they can discuss as a group, then they can send in their answers and start a dialogue with people in other parts of the country.

“That’s the way young people communicate now, and one of the things we’re talking about here is maybe broadening that, and not just on April 24, but finding opportunities, particularly for young people, to do some of this together locally,” Shtulman said.

In addition to the texting initiative, Shtulman said the United Way has worked with Lord Fairfax Community College to do a public service advertisement, which is currently airing. It gives details about mental health and why it is important to break stigmas.

The advertisement also encourages those with questions or who are having issues to call 211, a statewide hotline that provides support and answers questions.

Shtulman said the United Way wants to work with anyone experiencing a mental illness to help ease social pressures and get them the help they need. Getting help to young people is particularly important.

“We’ve found through research that mental illness can be identified at an early age, usually in the teens,” he said. “If we can help them understand it, we can get them the help they need before it becomes more of a problem to themselves, their families, and the community.”

“I think it’s important for people to understand that mental illnesses are not the fault of the individual, and there are treatments available to help,” he added.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com