Just six months after his own personal tragedy, Senator Creigh Deeds is spreading the word about his new mental health legislation. Dozens gathered at Jefferson City Center in Charlottesville for a town hall organized by the Mental Health and Wellness Coalition Thursday afternoon to hear about those changes and to see what's being done in the greater Charlottesville area to improve how mental health issues are handled.
Deeds says the recent changes to the mental health system are just the beginning.
“As Virginians we should not be satisfied to have excellence in some parts of the state and total inadequacy in other parts,” he said.
Deeds spoke about the new laws created provide a real-time bed registry and extend the current evaluation periods. But most importantly, Deeds says a bed will be made available for anyone determined to be in need of one.
Deeds says another ongoing struggle is getting people to treat mental illnesses like any other sickness.
"As a parent if your child has cancer or heart defect or the flu you know what to do you, know where to go, you know somebody is working on finding solutions. But when it comes to mental health what do you do?” he said.
Deeds' son Gus attacked him and then killed himself in November, after he couldn't get a bed in a psychiatric hospital. Some were so moved by his tragedy and recent work that they shared their own stories.
One woman at the town hall said, “I will stand here today and tell anybody: whatever stigma you have about mental illness, I'm not going to hold my head down anymore. I'm going to live with it.”
Mental health professionals in the area say they are also working to better the system.
“We're trying to make the steps to care so easy for folks to avoid the kinds of tragedies like Santa Barbara and Senator Deeds experienced,” said Elizabeth Irvin, executive director of the Women’s Initiative.
Mental health professionals at the town hall said without Senator Deeds, the outcome would have been very different. They want people to continue this conversation to keep improving the system.