January/February 2020:

  • "Happy Boxes"
  • Advocacy Day Success
  • Legislature in High Gear
  • Annual Report Link
  • Advocacy 101: The Basics Webinar
  • Warm Line Record
  • Peer Into Recovery Podcasts
  • In Memoriam - Stephen Dawe
 8th Graders make “Happy Boxes”

MHAV is proud to sponsor some Loudoun County 8th graders for their mental health entry in the Step-Up Loudoun competition. Sahana Rao contacted us with the idea of creating boxes with journals, stress balls and other items to promote mental health. As she says:

“My friends and I learned about the significant pitfalls of poor mental health that impacts teens… especially during great lengths of physical isolation… Our project idea is to create a box that carries goodies which promote positivity and strengthen the mental health of the recipients and let others know they are not alone at this time… We are trying to make the world a better place just like you, one step at a time!”  
They have distributed over 50 boxes so far. Congratulations to Sahana and team for your good work!
Virtual Advocacy Day a Success!

With the pandemic preventing our usual advocacy day at the Capitol, NAMI Virginia and Mental Health America of Virginia partnered for a virtual Mental Health Advocacy Day on January 26th. Thank you to all who joined the effort and emailed your legislator about a priority budget amendment or bill.

In addition to helpful tips from a few legislators or their staff, Dr. Alissa Ward from DMAS gave a special presentation on the major changes underway in our state level system of services for youth and adults.

Resource materials are still relevant, and your voice is needed! See the packet materials and priorities available here . You can find the video recording on YouTube.
  • We have compiled most mental health related bills on   
Legislative Session in High Gear

Virginia’s General Assembly is moving quickly to deal with bills and budget amendments during a short session. We have been following several mental health related proposals. Our bill tracking chart is available here: 

Our website has a list of legislators on the finance committees that decide what bills get funded.

There is also the Advocacy Packet from Mental Health Advocacy Day, and our Legislative and Policy Priorities for 2021.

Contact your own legislator with a brief email expressing your support for issues you care about. Put the item or bill number in the email subject heading, and that you are a constituent. You can find your legislator here:

Two proposals with potentially huge impacts for mental health are in the criminal justice system.

Mental Illness and Criminal Justice

A proposed change in criminal procedure could bring about a major shift in what happens to individuals with a serious mental illness who are charged with a crime.

Unlike many other states, Virginia courts do not allow a defendant to present evidence of their mental state when the crime was committed until they are sentenced. They cannot present evidence of serious mental illness or intellectual disability at bond hearings or their trial. The only exception is in the rarely accepted plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, a very high standard that can result in indefinite confinement to a state hospital.

Virginia's current process results in defendants with serious mental illness spending more days in jail at every step in the judicial process, and has a disproportionate impact on people of color and low income.

  • As amended and passed out of their respective committees, the House and Senate versions of the bill differ, with the House version restricted to developmental or intellectual disabilities. We hope the House language will eventually conform to the more inclusive senate version. Both bills are now in finance committees.

Hb2047 is the more limited House Bill (in its current version).

SB1315 is the Senate bill.

Death Penalty Abolition

For the first time, bills to abolish the penalty of death and substitute life without parole have passed legislative committees, but they face opposition in the full House and Senate.

MHAV supports abolishing the death penalty because people with severe mental illnesses are at a substantial disadvantage in defending themselves when they face criminal charges, and those difficulties are compounded when the charges are so serious that the death penalty is sought. Our current system is imperfect, and fails to always identify who has a mitigating severe mental health condition.

Budget Amendments

Many proposed amendments to the state budget would support better mental health services.

A few of the Budget Amendments we support:

1. Increase funding for Permanent Supportive Housing to reduce hospitalizations and homelessness

     Item 322 #4s (Dunnavant): $6.5 Million for FY 2022

Stable housing and support services are one of the greatest barriers to discharge for individuals in state psychiatric facilities.
 2. Pilot Program: Peer Support Specialists and crisis services

Item 322 #2h (Price): $200,000 GF in FY 2022

This amendment provides $200,000 to support a pilot program in Hampton Roads that would pay Peer Support Specialists and QMHPs to accompany individuals in crisis who are waiting to be placed at an acute, in-patient psychiatric hospital.

The presence of someone qualified to talk with and offer support can help de-escalate a crisis until treatment is available.
3. Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program

Item 295 #1s (Deeds) & ltem 295 #1h (Carr):
$1.65 million GF per yr.

Established to address the severe shortage of behavioral health practitioners in Virginia, this amendment partially funds an educational loan repayment program for mental health providers serving our public behavioral health system.

Annual Report Highlights – Record Year for Service
The MHAV Annual Report for 2019-2020 features pictures and highlights from “the year like no other.”

You can access the report on our website or link below. Hard copies are available upon request.

 Eleven Complete MHAV's Training
to become Peer Recovery Specialists

Our Warm Line Manager, Cheryl DeHaven, B.S., CPRS, is also a state approved trainer for the curriculum required to become a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. Congratulations to the 11 new Peer Recovery Specialists who completed our recent 72 hour DBHDS approved training with Cheryl.
Virginia’s Peer Warm Line Heats Up!

Nearly 3,500 calls in 2020
120% increase over 2019

Virginia's Peer Run Warm Line

Mon - Fri 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Sat - Sun 5:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Alive RVA Warm Line
Opioid and Substance Use Recovery
Support and Resources
8:00 AM to Midnight
7 days/week
Remembering Stephen Dawe
Last year we lost a committed advocate for mental health, our good friend and colleague Stephen Dawe. He died on November 7th at the age of 59. I am honored to have known Stephen, a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist who modeled the essence of what it means to provide peer support. He valued highly the concepts of mutuality and respect for individual choice. He listened first.

For several years Stephen worked for Henrico Mental Health not far from our office. He would stop in often just to say hello, or sometimes express concern about people losing the core values of peer work. I didn't always agree with him, but he said insightful things I needed to hear.

Stephen would leave a note on our door signed “Mr. Curmudgeon,” yet his laugh was boisterous. He gave freely of his time and knowledge, served on our advisory council, and spoke at our annual events, giving testimony to how our CELT program had inspired him to pursue peer work. We learned a lot from Stephen. We miss him.

- Bruce
Advocacy 101: The Basics
Webinar (limited to 20 people)

Wednesday, February 8th 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM (with breaks)

Intended Audience: Those in recovery from mental health challenges, trauma, and/or substance use who are new to systems advocacy and wish to learn more.

*** PLEASE NOTE: This training is limited to Virginia residents. You must be able to attend by computer. ***

The Basics focuses on advocacy at the state policy level to promote civic engagement among peers in recovery. The agenda introduces skills and tools that build confidence, encourage participation and speaking in public.

This half-day live Zoom training is free of charge. There will be a one-hour break for lunch. You must use a computer to attend. Space is limited.

Topics include: How and why to advocate, creating your message, communicating with your legislator

Facilitators: Heather Fossen, CPRS and Kevin Kelly, CPRS

Registration deadline: Thursday, February 4 at 5:00 pm EDT

Peer Into Recovery Podcast
A podcast offering unique insights into the profession of peer support.

Featuring interviews with Peer Recovery Specialists - about their jobs, their passion, their experience, all geared toward how they are supporting hope and recovery.

Your donation helps us offer non-judgmental peer support and prevent crisis situations. 

Your support also provides scholarships to our recovery education programs, and helps us to continue spreading awareness and advocating for better mental health policies across Virginia.

Please invest in mental health today. Thank you!
Mental Health America of Virginia | (804) 257-5591 | E-mail | Website

To educate, empower, and advocate to improve mental health for all Virginians
Please consider making a donation to support mental health and wellness in Virginia! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.
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