Raise Your Voices

    Support Kids’ Mental Wellness

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    There’s no such thing as other people’s kids. That is a viewpoint expressed by one of my favorite mom bloggers, Glennon Doyle Melton, explaining why she and her thousands of followers raise money to help families in need.

    It’s also an apt description of the motivation behind child advocacy – that is, speaking up for the needs of children in the halls of power, where laws get made and carried out.

    As a child advocate, I believe that what happens to the kids down the street and those across town has an impact on my family. Whether my daughter’s schoolmates and students throughout the region live in supportive families and communities and succeed in school has a big impact on our quality of life. It also determines a great deal about the future of the Richmond region.

    Decisions get made every day in government that impact the lives of kids and families. The decision makers – whether in Congress, at the Virginia General Assembly, or at the local level – work for us. But it’s up to us to tell them what we want.

    Living in Richmond, we have a front-row seat to the state legislature. Virginia’s General Assembly convenes this year on Wednesday, January 13. The hundred delegates and forty senators will review thousands of bills and the state’s next 2-year budget, which determines the priorities for state spending on everything from schools to roads, all in sixty days.

    One hot-button issue sure to be discussed by legislators is Virginia’s mental health system, including the availability of help for kids who live with depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. Even in the Richmond area, where we have a relative wealth of children’s mental health professionals, families often have to wait months for an appointment with a child psychiatrist or even be placed on a waiting list to see a counselor who accepts their insurance.

    The General Assembly has taken steps to address this issue in the last four years, and come January 13, advocates for children will be pushing for them to do even more. Because concerned citizens spoke up, the state budget now includes $6.65 million a year to provide faster access to child psychiatrists and a variety of crisis response services that are helping kids in distress without hospitalizing them.

    In our region, these funds are being used to offer a 6-bed, short-term, crisis stabilization center for children at St. Joseph’s Villa in Henrico. Since it opened in May 2012, more than 400 children have been helped by the mental health clinicians there, keeping most from having to be hospitalized and helping others transition back home from the hospital. But with one in five kids coping with symptoms of mental health disorders, the need for treatment still greatly outpaces the supply of options.

    And this is where we the people come in: Now is the time to tell legislators why funding mental health services for kids should be a top priority. Do you have a child who lives with a mental health condition? Do you work in a school or faith community where you see the impact of untreated mental health problems on kids? 

    Join fellow advocates at the General Assembly Building on Wednesday, January 27, for Mental Health Advocacy Day. A group of mental health organizations is hosting this event to help citizens show their elected officials that this issue is important to them. Event organizers will help you figure out who to talk to, what to say, and how to share your story. Find out more and register at vakids.org.

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    Margaret Nimmo Holland
    Margaret Nimmo Holland is a mom and the executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization focused on informing lawmakers what kids need, based on data about child well-being and research showing what works to improve their lives.