Two ways to support mental health

Published 9:58 pm Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mental illness is one of modern society’s largest menaces, fueling substance abuse, dividing families, wrecking lives and sometimes taking them.

It’s even more menacing for being largely hidden. Look to your left or look to your right, and whoever you clamp eyes on could be up against the biggest struggle of their lives, even though from outward appearance you’d hardly know it.

There’s an adage oft quoted in journalism circles anomalous to the hidden nature of mental health issues: sunlight is the best disinfectant. Things that cannot be seen get little or no attention, and their devastating impacts tend to hide in plain sight.

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Earlier this month, these pages featured a story on a brave individual speaking about his daughter’s lost battle against bipolar disorder. Suffolk gastroenterologist Mark Lawson’s daughter Ashley, a Nansemond-Suffolk Academy graduate, died early this year at 28.

Lawson spoke publicly in an effort to drum up support for a fundraiser by the Chas Foundation, recently started by another grieving Hampton Roads parent in memory of the son she lost.

That event has passed, but another opportunity exists this weekend to support mental health issues.

After the number of patients served by state psychiatric hospitals plummeted between 2007 and 2012, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, when Virginia shifted responsibility to local communities, resources like Western Tidewater Community Services Board’s Peer Mentoring program have become increasingly essential.

The program employs individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illness, but benefited from board services and met requirements, to help folks get their lives back on track.

A yard sale for the self-sufficient program will be held at the board’s location at 5268 Godwin Blvd. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Items have been donated, and proceeds help pay mentors.

And now I’m going to sneak in a plug that’s self-serving but simultaneously selfless. The Movember movement encourages men to grow mustaches and seek sponsorship during November, with money raised supporting men’s health problems such as testicular and prostate cancer — and mental health issues.

Searching for my name at, and donating to the only one listed as living in Portsmouth, may in some spooky way even encourage the bristles gradually populating my upper-lip to become a little more lustrous and pleasing to my wife.