She Kept Her Promise To God, Now It's Our Turn

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The door opened at the bottom of the stairwell below my office at the top of the steps.

Then the sound of footsteps began.

Five steps.

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A small landing.

And a turn to the left.

Three more steps.

Another small landing.

And a turn to the left.

Eight steps.

A larger landing.

A third turn to the left.

Then seven steps.

Twenty three steps from the bottom to the top.

And then she walked into my office, keeping a promise she made to God.

She came to make an invisible illness visible.

She came to advocate for others like her who have suffered, are suffering, or will suffer from the illness that others cannot see.

All of us see the cast on a broken arm.

The crutches of those with a broken leg.

There are x-rays that show where others hurt, the presence or progress of a disease.

Blood leaves its red stains.

And so we believe them.

Those who suffer from mental illness, however, too often lack the compassion and understanding that society-and government funding-offer to help heal the visible wounds.

Our own blindness, where mental illness is concerned, can leave others in a darkness that only deepens their pain.

Too often, the first cuts to state budgets include programs and services that care for and help heal those of our neighbors and family members who suffer from mental illness.

Out of sight, out of mind?

No, we must mind. We must mind very much that Virginia's state budgeting for fiscal years 2009-2012 see funding for mental health cut by 8.9 percent.

Or $37.7 million.

From $424 million in fiscal year 2009 to $386 million for fiscal year 2012.

Funding cuts create waiting lists, diminish programs, cut out services.

In our own seven-county area, Crossroads Community Services provides services for those with mental illness, intellectual disabilities or who suffer from alcohol or drug abuse.

Crossroads Services Board is perfectly named.

The dedicated staff of men and women serves those who find themselves at a very serious crossroads in their lives-over 4,000 people Buckingham, Cumberland, Farmville, Prince Edward, Amelia, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Nottoway, and more than 2,000 others served through prevention programs by Crossroads.

Over 6,000 people in these seven counties alone.

Anyone who has suffered from mental illness themselves, or has a family member or friend with such an illness, understands too well the depth to which mental illness can take someone, but also the degree to which compassion and effective medical care can heal a person back to the level plane of their lives.

Since 2004, Crossroads has seen a 39 percent drop in state general funding without restrictions. Crossroads, emphatically and effectively led by Mr. Will Rogers-who is second in seniority among the state's community service board executive directors-has done wonders in the face of those drastic reductions but healing is enough of a challenge without being asked to perform miracles.

The General Assembly convenes today, Wednesday, January 11.

Virginia needs to increase funding for mental health services, and must be persuaded to do so. The current budget proposal promises to move backwards and negate what progress has been made in some areas. A proposed income eligibility change, for example, could see men and women suddenly ineligible for services, both day support and residential, in particular. We must not cast them adrift.

Let us all join with the brave woman who kept her promise to God and become advocates with her on behalf of those who suffer from mental illness.

If we use a factor of 10 other people whose lives are touched for each person receiving services we see that Crossroads' programs have a potential impact on 60,000 people in the seven counties.

Or about every other person you see walking down a sidewalk or driving down the road.

Seeing, in that case, is believing.

And the woman who climbed the 23 steps to my office desperately wants us all to see the truth.

The remaining steps are for us and our elected representatives to take, ultimately, toward ourselves.

(Become an advocate. Call Del. James Edmunds at the General Assembly: 804-698-1060 or email him at, or Del. Tommy Wright: 804-698-1061 or email him at or call Sen. Tom Garrett: 804-698-7522 or email