Getting Help for Mental Health

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By Colleen Kilday

Just like the heart or liver, the brain is a vulnerable organ that sometimes needs professional help to function normally. But since symptoms of mental health conditions often manifest in thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, it can be difficult to distinguish between a symptom and a typical response to life circumstances. It is not quite as clear cut as recognizing symptoms of the seasonal flu.

If you have found yourself concerned for your mental well-being in recent years, you are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of depression and anxiety-related disorders have increased by 25% since 2019.

On a similar note, overdose deaths as a result of substance use disorders have increased by nearly 30% in the United States over the past two years.

Between careers, families, and all else that occupies our minds, it’s no surprise that self-care is sometimes put on the back burner. As a general rule of thumb, any mental health-related symptom that interferes with normal life warrants attention. Of course, this requires recognizing the signs and symptoms associated with
mental health conditions and identifying local resources available to address them.

When to Seek Help

According to the National Institutes of Health, over half of all people will experience a mental health disturbance that warrants treatment over the course of their lifetime. Many people with mental health disorders may, over time, become desensitized to their symptoms or consider them a normal part of their life.

While only a mental health professional can determine the presence of a diagnosable condition, and each condition has its own unique symptomology, there are some signs that can help indicate if it’s time to seek professional help:

  • Uncontrollable worrying or ruminating
  • Excessive, persistent feelings of sadness or anger
  • Confusion or issues with concentration
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Overuse or chronic use of substances including alcohol
  • Inability to manage daily stress, cope with normal problems, or complete activities
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Feelings of social disconnection or withdrawal

Mental health disorders frequently co-occur with Substance Use Disorder, defined as a condition that manifests as the compulsive use of alcohol or other drugs in spite of negative consequences. Though it is one of the deadliest and most common mental health conditions in the United States, it is also the least treated.

Over 41 million people suffer from SUD each year but fewer than 1.5% of them seek help. Societal stigma is considered one of the greatest barriers to seeking treatment. Because addiction is widely mischaracterized as a moral failing, sufferers are often too ashamed to get help.

However, nearly one in 10 Americans will experience a significant substance misuse problem in their lifetime. It’s thus important to acknowledge that most people who experience addiction are no more complicit in their suffering than those with other mental health conditions.

The presence of Substance Use Disorder is also only formally diagnosable by a mental health professional; however, there are many signs that indicate the need to seek help:

  • Continued use of a substance despite negative social, physical, or mental consequences
  • Using substances at inappropriate occasions, such as when driving or at work
  • Withdrawal symptoms following disuse and increased tolerance of the substance
  • Continued use despite negative impact on family or other relationships, including isolating oneself
  • Disengagement from normal activities to prioritize substance use
  • Inability to control the amount or duration of usage
  • Spending a significant amount of time using, recovering from usage, or trying to procure substances

The most effective treatment varies widely depending on the affected person’s primary substance of choice and other factors; however, the best intervention is always the earliest one. This can help prevent cumulative negative effects on health, work, family and social life. This holds true for any mental health condition.

Getting started on recovery may seem daunting, but there are many local and nationwide resources available to support you on your journey.

Mental Health Screenings and Assessments

The first step toward recovery of any condition is to seek out an assessment or screening. These can be provided by a primary care doctor, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker or accessed through the following public resources.

The Prince William County Department of Community Services provides same-day mental health and substance use screenings and assessments at their Manassas and Woodbridge-based locations. While appointments are not required, services are provided on a first come, first served basis.

In addition to assessments, the centers connect individuals with services and resources tailored to their specific needs and treatment approach, which may include individual or group therapy, psychiatric services and more. For more information about the Same Day Access assessment services, contact the Manassas-based Access Intake Office at 703-792-5241 (TTY:711) or the Woodbridge-based office at 703-792-7373
(TTY:711).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), an agency within the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, also provides resources that can help individuals identify and connect with local, reputable mental health services. They host several hotlines and online resources to assist in the navigation of the behavioral health services system. For help locating treatment services, visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov or contact the free, confidential National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

After determining the diagnosis, a health care provider may recommend a treatment approach that involves psychiatric services including medication, certain lifestyle changes, or counseling and therapy. While therapy is a demonstrably effective tool toward treating both mental health and substance use conditions, a diagnosis is not necessary to yield its benefits. Therapy has been shown to improve mental health and life skills independent of the presence of any particular condition.

Support Networks

In addition to providing a judgment-free, supportive social network, peer support groups can equip attendees with education and coping strategies to help combat a range of conditions.

Located in Woodbridge, the Trillium Center is a nonprofit organization that provides a supportive environment for adults with mental illnesses aimed towards facilitating their recovery and personal growth. They host several conference call groups throughout the week covering topics such as cultivating mindfulness, overcoming anxiety, and more. Additionally, Trillium Center staff recently published a book titled Hope Awakened: A Workbook for People Who Have Survived a Suicide Attempt and for Those Who Have Contemplated Suicide. For more information on the workbook and the center, visit trilliumcenterinc.org or call 703-763-3865.

Mental Health America of Virginia is a nonprofit organization that supports individuals in their recovery through a variety of services. They offer virtual seminars that educate attendees on coping strategies and other tools to foster holistic mental health. They also host an Addiction Recovery Support Warm Line at 1-833-4PEERVA and a Mental Health Warm Line at 866-400-MHAV. For more information and to connect with the organization’s additional resources, visit mhav.org.

In addition, Prince William County has plans to create a 24-hour crisis receiving center to provide direct interventions for those experiencing mental health crisis. The center is estimated to cost $4.7 million, would include 16 beds, and is planned to open in July.

“I have been hearing from so many people in my district who say we need more mental health care,” Supervisor Andrea Bailey said in a news release earlier this year.

The proposed unit would accept drop offs and people under temporary detention orders to connect them with treatment and services.

Coping with Traumatic Experiences

Many experiences in life leave a lasting impression on the way we see the world or ourselves. Sometimes, these events or life circumstances can lead to a persistent change in daily functioning that may include anxiety or depression-like symptoms.

While opening up about these experiences is extremely difficult, it is necessary to do so in order to process and overcome them. Many people find it easier to talk with people who can relate to what they are experiencing.

There are many local groups tailored to the unique needs and experiences of those who have undergone stressful or traumatic events. Keep in mind that symptoms spawned from a traumatic experience need not meet diagnostic criteria to warrant participation in a peer support group.

Postpartum Support Virginia is a nonprofit organization that provides new and expectant mothers with resources to overcome Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. The organization currently hosts virtual social support groups, viewable at postpartumva.org. They also host a 24/7 support hotline at 703-
829-7152, connects mentors with those in need and facilitates access to other resources.

ACTS

ACTION in Community Through Service is an organization that provides Prince William residents with a variety of supportive programs. A subset of the organization, ACTS Sexual Assault Services, provides survivors of sexual assault and abuse with all-inclusive support services, including court and hospital accompaniment. The team’s Sexual Assault Specialists offer confidential support to individuals via appointments. The organization also hosts several support groups throughout the county. To inquire about individual or group support, contact 703-497-1192.

Those who have survived a suicide attempt or have lost a loved one to suicide may struggle with feelings of guilt, regret, or shame. ACTS hosts support groups for both groups of people to aid in processing such feelings. For more information including meeting dates and times, call 703-368-4141.

The organization also provides support for people who have lost loved ones to sudden or traumatic events. The abruptness and traumatic nature of such experiences often intensifies and complicates feelings of grief and bereavement. Through the ACTS Traumatic Death Survivor support group, attendees can give and receive support to peers who have experienced similar loss. To learn more about the group including meeting times, call 703-441-8606 ext. 214.

Between 11 and 23% of military veterans experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and countless more suffer from other conditions. The North Region of the Virginia Veteran and Family Support Program serves Prince William veterans and their families with access to a variety of services including peer support groups, rehabilitative services, and assistance programs. To connect with the organization’s services and support groups, call 877-285-1299.

Lifestyle Changes

mental healthMental well-being affects everyone, not just those who have a specific condition. Likewise, a diagnosis isn’t required to improve your mental health. In fact, many tools that aid recovery from mental health conditions can also augment wellbeing in those without any conditions.

Physical exercise can significantly improve everyone’s mental well-being and is only needed in increments of 30 minutes, three to five days a week in order to reap its full benefits. Additionally, its benefits increase over time, so it’s important to build an exercise routine that is sustainable and enjoyable in the long term. Finding a workout buddy can help keep you engaged and committed; plus, social support is another factor linked with improved mental health.

Research by the National Institutes of Health suggests that sustaining a supportive social network can foster resiliency to stress and lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even during times of personal distress, it is important to stay engaged in the community and maintain or seek out new interpersonal
relationships.

While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to pursuing mental health, the most effective approach is one that incorporates a variety of tools and resources, of which plenty can be found right in the Prince William community.

Colleen Kilday is a journalist and technical writer who has written for a variety of local publications as well as aviation and financial journals.

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