South Ga. organizations, agencies partner up for new mental health initiative

Updated: Mar. 16, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - South Georgia has been experiencing the mental health aftermath of the pandemic.

From an increase in domestic violence and sexual assaults to suicide and depression, agencies are now coming together.

“Mental health is the new pandemic we are facing, it’s an invisible threat to us all,” said Michael Smith, Greater Valdosta United Way director.

Nonprofits, government agencies and health care centers are coming together.

They’re focusing on seven counties, which include Lowndes, Brooks, Echols, Lanier, Berrien, Clinch and Cook counties.

Smith said first responders will receive training on handling mentally-distressed people.

He said they’ll work with public schools to teach counselors and teachers about signs of child abuse and mental health strains.

The plan also includes providing hotlines for those seeking help.

“We’re trying to tell people it’s okay to not be okay and to let people know where the help is and let people know who are the professionals that can help you deal with your mental health,” said Smith.

Executive Director of The Haven Michelle Girtman said people are slowly returning back to a new normal.

Girtman said this is the best time to raise awareness and show the community where the help is.

“What we’ve seen at the Haven is our domestic violence and sexual assault numbers are up by 59% since 2020 and probably the largest number we’ve seen since we opened in 1986. So, we know a big part of that is mental health and problems with mental health,” said Girtman.

Executive Director for Partnership Health Center John Sparks said his clinic provides care to those uninsured.

Sparks said they’ve seen the toll mental health has caused on the low-income population and the lack of services there is for them.

“These are chronic issues we are dealing with and it comes from lack of resources in the community and I think the pandemic just magnified everything. Things were already there and then you get the isolation, the fear factors that goes into dealing with something people never dealt with before and it just escalates things that are already there,” said Sparks.

Sparks said being part of this initiative will help them increase mental health service access.

The initiative is currently in the planning phase, but they hope to begin their first training event in April.

If you would like to join this initiative, call the Greater Valdosta United Way at (229) 242-2208.

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