It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

It’s been two years of massive disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased worries and anxieties.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, more than 1.4 million adults in Georgia have a mental health condition.

Considered by many health professionals as the “new pandemic,” in 2021, 44% of adults in Georgia reported having symptoms of anxiety and depression, with 29% unable to receive counseling.

Georgia’s lack of mental health professionals has reached a statewide crisis, especially in rural communities. According to a Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation report, within the state’s 159 counties, 150 have a mental health professional shortage, 77 counties have no full-time psychiatrists, and 52 counties have no licensed social worker.

Across the state, especially in South Georgia, a growing number of children are struggling with adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, which are potentially traumatic events that include violence, abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, and having a family member attempt suicide.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse in adulthood. These traumas negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential.

As part of a regional coalition, the Greater Valdosta United Way received a $200,000 two-year grant ($100,000 per year) from Resilient Georgia. The grant aims to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and promote behavioral health services for children and adults in a seven-county radius.

Resilient Georgia is a statewide coalition of organizations committed to building a stronger trauma-informed Georgia through preventing ACEs, healing adversity, and promoting resiliency.

“One of our goals is to bring attention to the rising number of suicides and mental health issues,” said Michael Smith, GVUW executive director. “It is a growing concern for many nonprofit agencies, and we are excited to partner with Resilient Georgia.”

Smith added that compassion fatigue and workplace burnout is also affecting healthcare, educators, and nonprofit employees.

The GVUW is focused on getting the message out that “it’s okay not to be okay.”

“We want to let people know that we’ve all been through a lot, the world has changed, and it’s important to connect with the resources and help they need,” Smith said. “The GVUW is excited to see more community partners focus on mental health for students and employees.”

In 2021, GVUW co-sponsored first responder training in Lowndes and Lanier counties focused on recognizing mental health concerns, suicide prevention, and human trafficking.

The mental health awareness campaign included presentations from Adrian N. Peterson, former Chicago Bears running back and Georgia Southern University athlete.

Various stops in Valdosta were part of Peterson’s “Tackling Mental Health South Georgia Tour,” hosted by the GVUW and community partners.

The author of “Don’t Dis My Abilities,” Peterson, talked to the students about the importance of understanding mental health and not being afraid to ask for help.

Collaborating with The Haven, the GVUW, Leadership Lowndes, the City of Valdosta, and Lowndes County hosted a Mental Health Awareness Night to promote a better understanding of mental health issues and provide information about resources available within the community.

To schedule mental health training and education programs or information about ACEs, email staff@unitedwayvaldosta.org or info@resilientga.org.

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