The gift of giving: Mental Health Association of Fauquier County

By Posted on Dec 13 2018 | By

Contributions to county mental well-being recognized by Chamber

On November 3, an integral part of Fauquier County’s mental health system was recognized by the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce as Nonprofit of the Year.

The award was presented to Executive Director, Sallie Morgan, at the Chamber’s 32nd Meeting & Awards Gala held at the Stoneridge Events Center. Morgan has headed the organization since 2011.

“We were delighted to receive the award,” said Morgan. “I do think we do good work. What the award said to me is the community really values the whole struggle to improve mental wellness in the community. It’s an issue our community is embracing and engaging in.”

Established in 1964, the organization is a grass roots nonprofit advocacy and action group working to increase awareness of mental health and substance abuse and decrease the stigma often associated with mental illness and addiction.

In the early sixties there were no mental health services in Fauquier County and few, if any, providers. “People came together and said we need to do something about it. They formed the association and then went on to obtain a grant from the state to start the very first mental health clinic in the community,” said Morgan.

Over five decades later both organizations are thriving and providing much needed comfort and cure for depression, addiction and a host of other mentally related illnesses.

A few years after the clinic was created, the state established the Community Services Board and the clinic became part of the board, known today as the Fauquier Behavioral Health Clinic located on Hospital Hill.

It is a separate organization from Morgan’s association but both entities work closely together.

For many years the association operated with no paid staff. In the early 2000s, a large private donation triggered the hiring of its first executive director who subsequently moved on in 2010.

The vacancy created an opportunity for Morgan who had been working for the Community Services Board for over 30 years. “I was looking to make a change. I had been involved in the direct delivery of services so the Mental Health Association was a great opportunity to look at the system itself. That’s what drew me to work for the association,” said Morgan.

Until last February, Morgan was the only staff person. In a coordinated effort, a strategic planning process was undertaken that culminated in the decision to bring an additional person on board. “We hired a fabulous young woman, Brittany Dwyer, as a community outreach coordinator.”

A third part-time staff member, John Waldeck, is a behavioral health consultant. Waldeck ran the clinic for many years and is deeply knowledgeable about the challenges facing the community.

Much has been accomplished with these three professionals guiding the association.

Cutting to the heart of how Morgan views her role is her mantra: “There is no health without mental health. You really can’t separate the two. If you can improve mental health status, your physical health will improve.

“More than half of us are going to face a mental health issue some time in our lives.”

One of the unique obstacles in delivering mental health cures is drawing out sufferers who are often reluctant to discuss their problems. Experience shows that many people are fearful of seeking help or even talking about their struggles.

The average time from when a person starts experiencing symptoms to actually getting treatment is 10 years. “One of the main things we are trying to accomplish is providing enough information and education to reduce the stigma of seeking treatment.

“We’ve become much more involved in working with substance abuse which is hard to separate from mental health issues. Often people start off self-medicating and it exacerbates whatever mental issues they are experiencing. One of the primary things we do is provide information and refer people to treatment for either condition,” said Morgan.

Just one example of reaching deeper into the community is the recent launch of its redesigned website.

Even a cursory look at the site impresses with its scope of help available to those in need. It provides information on programs, resources, publications and more.

The pain and heartache of an emotionally suffering person is highlighted in the list of resources available to treat a spectrum of problems such as: anxiety, bullying, depression, bipolar disorders, eating disorders, PTSD, suicide, substance abuse, and schizophrenia.

One important group targeted for improving well-being is young people. Research shows about half of mental health issues emerge about the age of 14 and a full 75 percent present by 24 years of age.

“You can make a huge difference with young people in building low self-esteem because mental health issues often develop from that. We put a lot of emphasis on working with our school system and other organizations that deal with young people.

“We have about 25 organizations that come together, including law enforcement. We have a good system for identifying those children who are struggling.”

Morgan sees three components to her organization’s success: A good prevention program. A process to identify those in need. And solid intervention strategies.

One point of pride in executing this three-pronged effort was a survey of over 1,400 middle and high school county students. A significant amount of information was gained about opioid and other substance abuses among this vulnerable cohort.

On a positive note, Morgan says the high rate of neonatal drug births and overdose deaths of just a few years ago appear to be easing. “A big difference came from working with the sheriff’s department and the town police. Also, the introduction of Narcan has seen the death rate go down.”

Narcan is a drug often administered by first responders and works by rapidly reversing the effects of an opioid overdose by restoring normal breathing.

The Mental Health Association of Fauquier County accomplishes a great deal on a modest annual budget of $250,000. Anyone wishing to help support its efforts will find a donation link on its website at:


Published in the November 14 , 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.


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