Voices’ Blog

Healing for the Healers 2024: Recap & Reflections

Posted:  -  By: Kristin Lennox

On Tuesday, January 23, Voices joined with ChildSavers for our second iteration of Healing for the Healers – an advocacy day event created to uplift policy for youth mental and behavioral health, with the mission of centering the stories and experiences of providers and healers in the community. This recap includes quotes and stories from advocates, provided anonymously with permission to share. 

Advocates pose together in the foyer of the General Assembly Building

This year, we encouraged registrants to expand whom they consider to be “healers” to include parents, caregivers, teachers, community leaders, providers, and administrators in mental and behavioral health. This helped us assemble a truly diverse group of advocates with lived and living experience in Virginia’s mental and behavioral health systems – both as consumers and providers.  

Kristin Lennox, Director of Engagement, led a hybrid training on mental health advocacy at ChildSavers

“I advocate for youth mental health because their wellbeing is key to a healthy community. We are all connected. As a mother, former teacher, and youth programs leader I want to exist in a world where young people are well, sufficiently resourced, and supported. I see the disparities our youth face firsthand, yet I’m inspired by how they show up boldly and creatively. They deserve better.” 

Together, about twenty-five advocates met with sixteen delegates and senators and their offices to share our priorities on youth behavioral and mental health, with a focus on school-based mental health, workforce development, and crisis services for young people.

Advocates meeting with Del. Rae Cousins

“I am a believer that tomorrow can always be better than yesterday, so I am an advocate for youth mental health because they are the future. To do better by them, we need provide the proper tools, remove the barriers, and set better examples. When they are better, we will all be better at improving the human condition.” 

Advocates reflected on who or why they were moved to mental health advocacy.

“I think it is important to be open about mental health to de-stigmatize it. The less we talk about it in public the bigger the barrier is, I really want to show other people that it is okay to be open about mental health and it is the first step towards normalizing the belief that it is okay not to be okay.” 

Advocates sharing stories with staff of Del. Askew’s office.

“I am an advocate for youth mental health because I have seen far too many people succumb to the long-term impact of childhood trauma. Fostering emotional well-being, healthy communities, and trauma-informed schools is crucial for youth mental health. Young people may zone out, act out, drop out, or flip out without wrap-around support. We empower them by raising awareness and dismantling stigma. Promoting prevention programs and addressing mental health challenges early leads to healthier and more resilient communities.” 

Advocates posing with Sen. Boysko.

“I advocate for youth mental health because it’s often overlooked. People write it off as phases or just an off day, but mental health is just as real in youth as it is in adults. I advocate because I want to dismantle the stigma that kids are always happy and when they aren’t it’s something wrong with them. In today’s society there is so many things youth are exposed to and it’s time we provide resources for them to adequately support them not demonize them.” 

Advocates with staff from Sen. Jordan’s office.

“I have been involved with receiving services as a youth, providing services for youth, and advocating for improving access and availability of appropriate treatment options for youth in the Commonwealth for most of my life. I know that we can do better and we owe it to the young people who depend on us to show them that they matter and deserve the opportunity to live their best life. If we don’t show that we see them and believe they have inherent value by providing them all the tools they need to succeed we will continue to lose them to the unhealthy coping mechanisms available (substance use, self harm, suicide) because that is all they have until we provide them with healthy, effective alternatives. I don’t want to bury another nephew or niece because I could not get them access to the help they needed when they needed it.” 

Alex Gúzman congregates with advocates before meeting with lawmakers.

The Voices team is deeply grateful to continue to work in collaboration with our partners including Alex Gúzman of ChildSavers and John Richardson-Lauve of St. Joseph’s Villa. We appreciate their willing leadership towards this day of advocacy and for all of their ongoing work in support of youth behavioral and mental health in Virginia.

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