School services and accommodations for mental health disorders are typically available in Virginia under the category of “emotional disabilities“. Families and children who are struggling with mental health challenges can find it very difficult to have their needs recognized because mental health is not typically viewed as a developmental disorder and it is often not a visible disability. Those struggling with anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often “invisible” to others. Mental health difficulties are most often seen in the public school setting when a child “externalizes” behavior by acting out. A large number of children who struggle in this way do not have outward behaviors and therefore their needs are missed. Examples of this is social isolation, lack of class participation, difficulties with attendance and tardiness, and inability to complete classwork or homework. Unfortunately, many educators miss the signs of mental health difficulties and as a result children may get labeled as defiant, oppositional, work avoidant and lazy.
Of all children with disabilities, those with mental health disorders have the highest rates of referral to law enforcement, out of school suspension and expulsion, and the use of restraint and seclusion. This is deeply concerning because of the trauma associated with all of these experiences can result in symptoms get worse over time, and have implications for short- and long-term outcomes.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has local support groups that can serve the needs of those with mental health disorder. The Bazelon Center of Mental Health Law also works to improve national policy and will litigate cases on a pro bono basis for cases that could have nationwide positive impact on the state of the law.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness-Northern Virginia (NAMI Northern Virginia) is a chapter of the national NAMI organization which has a mission to serve both adults and children with mental health needs. NAMI Northern Virginia has a website, operates an email list and offers parent support meetings. To subscribe to the NAMI Northern Virginia email list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting to be added to the list.
NAMI Northern Virginia has a Help Line which is answered by local volunteers each afternoon during the week. The number is (703) 968-4007. Messages left on voice mail are generally returned within 24 hours. The national organization also has a help line that is open from 10-6 (ET) Monday through Friday. For those in crisis, the 24-hour toll free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
The following NAMI Northern Virginia support groups are for family members with a focus on parents and caregivers of children under 18. Please check the NAMI Northern Virginia Family Programs website page for updates and for information about classes like “Family-to-Family” and “Basics” (for parents and caregivers of youth).
NAMI Northern Virginia’s Arlington Family Support Group meets on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at Cherrydale Baptist Church, 3910 Lorcom Lane, Arlington, Virginia 22207 (Room 118, lower level). Contact Michelle Best (email@example.com) or Alisa Cowen (firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-243-2205) for additional information. To be added to the email list associated with this group–which contains a wealth of current updates–contact Naomi Verdugo at email@example.com .
NAMI Northern Virginia’s Fairfax City Family Support Group meets on the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m at Woodson High School (library), 9525 Main Street, Fairfax, VA 22032.
NAMI Northern Virginia’s Springfield Family Support Group meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (Room #24), 8304 Old Keene Mill Road, West Springfield, VA 22152
NAMI Northern Virginia also offers free Youth Fests throughout the year. These provide an opportunity for teens, young adults, children and families to come together for fun, while also providing an opportunity for sharing, support and learning about local resources. Subscribe to the NAMI Northern Virginia email list at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive event and program announcements. (Last year’s Summer Fest brought teens and young adults together around a campfire to enjoy s’mores, conversation, and acoustic guitar played by a young adult, while parents attended a mini-support group nearby; children and families were free to explore the farm.)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has a website with science-based information on mental health designed to educate the public on mental health issues.