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Depressed? It may be time to call for help
Calling a mental health counselor is a big step, and could be a life-saving one

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Date published: 4/12/2009



The breakup of Virginia English's 27-year marriage led the King George County woman to seek therapy.

John, a Vietnam War veteran unknowingly suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, realized he needed help when he yelled at his young daughter so loudly she shook with fear.

Karen Boyd of Spotsylvania County struggled for years with depression before deciding to give mental health counseling a try.

As their experiences show, the road to mental health treatment can be a long and winding one, despite advances in treatment and efforts to break down the stigma associated with mental health care.

"People don't just pick up the phone one morning and say, 'Oh, I think I'm having a psychological crisis and I'll get help,'" said Fredericksburg psychologist Roy W. Jarnecke, whose Ph.D. dissertation looked at why people do seek mental health treatment. "A lot of times people don't know the process. They don't know how to access the system."

Mental health counseling, or talk therapy, is a form of treatment that links individuals or groups with a licensed professional to deal with issues ranging from marital problems to substance abuse to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and parenting problems.

These days, the shaky economy is also putting a strain on many people's mental health.

Coping strategies emerge through a series of sit-down sessions with a therapist.

Yet while up to 20 percent of Americans are suffering from depression at any given time, only about one-fourth of them get treatment. Even when people do reach out for mental health care, they sometimes find it takes many tries to find the right counselor, and that goes for depression as well as other mental health problems.

But the effort is worth it, say those who believe talk therapy has radically improved their lives.


John, 63, of Fredericksburg, who asked that his last name not be used, said he was struggling to control his stress after returning home from Vietnam, taking a heavy college course load and adjusting to life with a wife and young daughter. He went to a university psychologist for three sessions on campus, but didn't get much help.

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The Mental Health HelpLine provides free, confidential information and referral services to mental health treatment, resources, and educational literature on many mental health topics. Call Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 371-2704 or toll free 800/684-6423.

At other times, or if you're in crisis, call the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board at 373-6876 or Snowden at 741-3900.