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Hampton Roads mayors discuss mental health staffing shortage across the region

Mental health leaders told city officials there’s not enough qualified staff to get crucial help to the kids and adults that need it.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Hampton Roads mayors and city managers heard directly from the mental health services leaders in the region on Thursday.

Those leaders told them there’s not enough qualified staff to get crucial help to the kids and adults that need it. They brainstormed ways to tackle that growing issue.

Mental health nonprofit leaders, city services coordinators, and healthcare officials from across the 757 were invited to speak at the latest mayors’ roundtable discussion.

Connecting Communities Executive Director Lateacia Sessoms said her team deals with this shortage every day and told the Hampton Roads mayors it’s burning out her experienced staff.

“They are being exposed to trauma and things on a daily basis and what we are seeing is we are beginning to lose those staff as well,” Sessoms said.

Mental health and unaddressed trauma is just the latest topic in the mayors’ now quarterly discussion on how to tackle crime.

“There is a stigma around mental health and telling people, 'Hey, I need this help,'” said Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck.

They also talked about getting more resources into school systems to address issues at their root.

Virginia Beach city leaders mentioned a rapid response program now in elementary schools to assess students quickly. Norfolk and Virginia Beach leaders talked about nighttime recreation programs they have for kids. Newport News talked about its gun violence task force. Most city mayors mentioned having a violence prevention task force of sorts.

“I think we have a lot of great ideas in Newport News,” said Mayor Phillip Jones. “I think the best mayor and best city manager is someone that can look and take best practices from across different cities and apply it to your own local city.”

Sessoms hopes more collaboration can happen between the cities to create more mental health professionals.

“I am thinking that we need to start at the high school level,” Sessoms said. “Where we are getting them at 11th, 12th grade. Just exposing them to what the field looks like.”

The mayor's roundtable will meet again in June. They are going to bring in people in the community who are known as violence interrupters and work in neighborhoods impacted by violence daily.

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