April 26, 2007
A forum in Charlottesville on Thursday night was aimed at raising awareness of a number of often very personal issues, including mental health.
Given last week's tragedy at Virginia Tech, and the news that the shooter there was likely suffering from mental illness, the forum dealt with issues that were getting quite a bit of attention in recent days. Near the end of the evening, the organizers of the forum on mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse, were calling it a success.
Lane Auditorium was packed with people looking to talk, and to learn more about mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse.
The event was the capstone to a UVa course, and students organized the forum themselves. They were looking to start a dialogue about these sometimes overlooked issues.
"I know that on a nationwide level, mental health definitely receives a very strong stigma," said Tommy Roberts, a second-year at UVa. "A lot of people are kind of afraid to deal with it because they don't know much about it."
But Thursday was a chance to change that by educating the public and allowing people to speak directly to local legislators.
In addition to the full house at Lane Auditorium, more than 50 people signed up to comment publicly.
"This is a common denominator that cuts across lots of different areas, lots of what we see with mental health bleeds over into other areas," said Karen Waters, the Executive Director at the Quality Community Council, one of the organizations sponsoring the forum.
While the event had been planned for some time, organizers said the issues open for discussion were especially timely following the deadly rampage in Blacksburg only a week earlier.
Recent reports reveal that the shooter at Virginia Tech had a history of mental illness, and it seems that he somehow slipped through the cracks and didn't get the help many are saying he needed.
"You know he's representative of many, many people who have unchecked issues," said Waters. "Any number of outcomes can be equally as tragic."
"People like that are inevitably going to slip through the cracks and it needs to be dealt with so things like that won't happen again in the future," said Roberts. "Maybe some positive things will come out of forums like this."
Organizers said that Virginia is ranked 49th in the U.S. when it comes to allocating funds for mental health issues like the ones discussed Thursday. But those organizers are hoping the forum in Charlottesville might be the start of a way to change that.