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FRIDAY FOCUS - Mental Health America of Fredericksburg

Mental Health America of Fredericksburg (MHAF) is a 501©3 charitable organization that looks to address all aspects of mental health and mental illness. They offer a variety of resources including a helpline, senior visitors program, support groups and suicide prevention education. This week we talked with Rita Girard, Executive Director of MHAF, as she details the work and services that MHAF provides to the community.
Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
Mental Health America of Fredericksburg (MHAF) improves people’s mental health and wellness through education, advocacy and supportive services.  We:
  • connect people with appropriate and available resources
  • educate to promote mental health awareness and understanding
  • advocate for policies and programs that impact the lives of people with mental health problems in our community, state and nation
  • serve by providing supportive services to those with mental health needs
  • identify gaps unmet by public and private mental health providers and insurers, as well as create and incubate programs tailored to meet those needs through collaborative efforts.

MHAF was founded in 1955. It is our community’s oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of individuals and families facing mental health challenges as they strive to reach their full potential at work, home and in their community. Statistics show that 1 in 4 American families are affected by a mental health problem every year. Only 1 in 3 people will seek treatment, yet 2 in 3 who seek help, get better. MHAF strives to increase the number of people seeking and receiving help through its free programs and support services so they can stay well and productive! Knowledge is powerful; minds are changed. When people seek help, lives are changed enabling individuals and families to move from dependency to self-sufficiency.
MHAF’s Helpline is the only Mental Health Referral & Information Service in our area. It improves access for those seeking help by connecting them with appropriate available mental health and community resources. It provides that beginning place – a bridge between people seeking help and those who can provide it. We maintain an extensive list of area mental health providers and people call us up and ask, “Who can I turn to for help?” We connect people with appropriate and available resources. For Immediate help, call (540) 371-2704.
Senior Visitors Program
The Senior Visitors program aligns with MHAF’s mission of improving mental health and wellness. It provides socialization, companionship, needs management and support to lonely, isolated older adults to improve their social, emotional and mental wellness. The program promotes development of age appropriate skills and habits to avoid risky behaviors and creates safe environments for approximately 139 seniors each year. It is the only FREE program in this community providing individualized, weekly in-home assistance to alleviate loneliness and social isolation for seniors – known predictors of clinical depression and risk of suicide. In fact, 20% of all deaths by suicide are by persons aged 65 and older. Many live alone on fixed incomes, have health and mobility impairments, cannot drive and have lost connection with their community.
Support Groups
Teen Support Group – Six-week series for high school teens struggling with depression and anxiety.
Wellness Support Group – Weekly group for adults struggling with a variety of mental health issues.
SOSL (Survivors of Suicide Loss) Group – Monthly group for people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Suicide Prevention Education
The main outcome of the Teen Suicide Prevention Education program is to increase knowledge to recognize warning signs and risk factors of depression and suicide ideation in themselves and others, to improve help-seeking behaviors and skills to intervene offering or seeking appropriate help for a friend or themselves before problems become more critical.
During the 2016-2017 academic year, 3,364 teenagers in the Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburg City high schools participated in the “Signs of Suicide” (SOS) Suicide Prevention Education program administered by Mental Health America Fredericksburg. Awareness and education are key to prevention. Most youth contemplating suicide show warning signs prior to an attempt, so being able to recognize signs and having skills to respond is essential to preventing risky behaviors. The purpose of the program is not to train individuals to become "counselors" but to become a bridge to help.
Through the program, students are taught that suicide is not a normal response to stress but that suicide is a preventable tragedy that can occur as a result of untreated depression. An easy-to-remember acronym, ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell), shows students steps they can take if they are involved in a situation that would necessitate help from a trusted adult.
*(2017- 2018 statistics will be available mid-summer)
Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
Yesterday, one of our Helpline callers surprised Carla Jones (our Helpline Coordinator) with flowers!!!
A member of our community, who had called (last week) asking for resources for their young family member (who is struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide) walked into our office with a bouquet of flowers as a way to thank her for her help!

We (MHAF) are lucky to have found such a caring, compassionate person to coordinate our Helpline program and provide needed resources to people who are trying to find help! It is so nice to know that this program works and we are helping change lives.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is raising funds/ finding funding to provide the services we offer and getting the word out that the funds we raise stay here to help our community!
Q: Are there any upcoming events?
  • Jazz on the Lake - Saturday, October 13
    • New event – details to follow
  • Another Day Walk - Saturday, October 20. www.mhafred.org/anotherday
    • The 4th Annual Another Day Walk – to support our suicide prevention education program – where 100% of the funds we raise stay in our community to provide suicide prevention education to our local teens.
  • Healing Grove Tree Planting – Date TBD
  • Walk for Mental Wellness – May 4, 2019
  • Yoga in the Park – June 8, 2019
A list of all events can be found on the event calendar at https://www.mhafred.org/events/
Q: How can people get involved with your organization?
To volunteer, register for events, or donate - contact MHAF at 540-371-2704 or mhafred@mhafred.org.