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April 10, 2017

10 questions with Mental Health Association director

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“I think we’re eating away at it, but it’s still there,” Sallie Morgan says of the stigma associated with mental illness.
One of the questions has been to what extent social media has an impact. There have been studies looking at expectations of young people and the kinds of things that they’re feeling, like what they need to accomplish in order to get into colleges. Often, anxiety is felt by very bright, creative students.
Sally Morgan
• Age: 69

• Home: Rappahannock County

• Work: Executive director, Fauquier Mental Health Association, since 2011; director of community support services, Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services, 1989 to 2011; director of area agency on aging, Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services, 1976 to 1989.

• Education: Master’s degree in English literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1971; bachelor’s degree in psychology, College of William and Mary, 1969; Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lima, Peru, 1965.

• Family: Husband, Todd; grown daughter; granddaughter.
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Staff Journalist
The Warrenton-based nonprofit seeks to increase awareness about a range of “behavioral health issues” and help identify ways to address them.

“Our goal is to look at where the community can do better, do some problem-solving and seek the resources to make our visions come true,” says Sallie Morgan, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Fauquier. “Fifty percent of the population experiences some kind of mental health problem during our lifetimes.

“It’s just such a fundamental piece of our human experience and something that affects everything else.”

Established in 1964, the association also serves Rappahannock County.

“Everything we do is a partnership or a collaboration with someone else,” said Mrs. Morgan, who has headed the association since 2011.

Before taking that part-time executive director’s job, she worked 35 years for Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services in Culpeper. The state agency provides a range of behavioral health, intellectual disability, substance use disorder and aging services.

Mrs. Morgan retired in 2011 as the agency’s community support services director.

Identifying and delivering resources quickly to clients represent some of the biggest challenges facing mental health care professionals.

But, if she could wave a magic wand and instantly fix the mental health care system, Mrs. Morgan would address the needs of children.

“I’d start with young people, because about half of mental health problems show up by age 14. And three-quarters show up by age 24. If you catch children as they’re beginning to experience difficulties, you can change their entire lifetime.”

The association’s only employee, Mrs. Morgan maintains a second-floor office at 50 Culpeper St. Its fiscal 2017 budget totals $165,152.

• Can you identify the biggest mental health/behavioral challenges people face?
The increasing numbers of people suffering anxiety and depression. And, certainly the opioid addiction and the rate of overdose deaths we’re seeing that affects young adults, young people and also older adults, who are becoming addicted to opioids.

• What accounts for the increase in depression and anxiety?
That’s the $64,000 question. There are a lot of social pressures. One of the questions has been to what extent social media has an impact. There have been studies looking at expectations of young people and the kinds of things that they’re feeling, like what they need to accomplish in order to get into colleges. Often, anxiety is felt by very bright, creative students. We need to find some ways of helping people have the motivation to do well, but not feel they’re under such pressure to do it.

• What are the biggest challenges Fauquier mental health care professionals face in addressing those problems?
The average length of time between experiencing symptoms and asking for treatment — or getting treatment — is 10 years. One of the concerns is the stigma associated with telling people what you’re experiencing and going out and seeking help. Once they’ve overcome that, the other concern is lack of appropriate resources in our community to meet all those needs.

We certainly have a small number of psychiatrists. We have a problem with finding (mental health care providers) who will accept Medicaid and certain insurances. There’s still a cost factor in getting treatment.

We have some good therapists who serve children, but not enough of them. We need more people who treat substance abuse issues.

• Has the stigma associated with mental illness lessened?
I think we’re eating away at it, but it’s still there . . . . We’re making progress, but I think we have a long way to go.

• Why does society still have a long way to go?
I think people are afraid. They lack information. I think in the past, particularly with addictions, there has been a kind of feeling that if people just pulled themselves together they could snap out of it. And, as with addiction, there’s a moral equivalency: if people were stronger, they could overcome those issues.

And, now we understand that addictions are very much a brain illness, a brain disease. Health issues have a lot of psychological and genetic components. I think people are beginning to understand it’s not something to be ashamed about.

• How have Fauquier’s mental health issues changed over the years?
The substance abuse issues have taken hold of late. The term you’ll hear is “behavioral health.” The mental health association has shifted its focus to include substance abuse disorders, because they have become a local issue. One of the biggest concerns is the age at which young people are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. And, that age has gotten younger that it used to be.

• Why?
Some of it may be availability. Some of it maybe to what extent legalization, say of marijuana, has affected people’s attitudes about whether it’s dangerous or not to use it. It’s a major concern, because if a person starts using it at age 13, they have a 70 percent chance of becoming addicted over the next five years. If they start using it at age 17, it’s like a 17 percent chance. And, if people haven’t started using drugs or alcohol until after age 27, the chances of becoming addicted go way down.

• What do you consider the top mental health care priority?
Access to psychiatrists and resources to serve children and adolescents.

• How can Fauquier attract more mental health care professionals?
That’s an ongoing concern and something people have been trying to figure out. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been looking to telehealth as an option to supplement resources in our community.

I think one of the best things we’re doing is bringing together the leaders of hospitals, health departments, social services departments. We have this thing called the Mental Health Collaborative. It’s the leadership of all the organizations that might have a stake in this area.

One of our goals is to look at how we could attract (mental health professionals) here. I’m not sure we have the final answer to that.

Nationwide, there’s a lack of psychologists — child psychologists, more than anything else. So it’s not just something that our community deals with. But, the more rural you are, the more you’re going to have gaps in your system.

• Would more money and resources fix this community’s mental health problems?
It certainly would help a great deal. What we really need is a system where medical care and mental health care aren’t coming from two different silos. If we have a system, which we have at the Fauquier Free Clinic, where medical care and mental health care are provided across the county, we’d be picking up issues much earlier and be able to avoid some of the stigma problems.
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