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Mental Health Awareness Month comes at a much needed time

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it coincides with increased emotional and mental hardship.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — May is mental health awareness month and this year it comes amidst additional challenges.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Coastal Virginia (NAMI) wants people to know they are not alone if they are feeling overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Free support group sessions have moved online and participation is growing. The groups are led by two NAMI-trained facilitators who are either family members or individuals in recovery. 

"Typically the group was about seven to eight on average. When we started doing the online group, we started seeing between 11 and 14 people participating. So it's definitely growing" said Elena Schexnider, co-facilitator of several Connections support groups for NAMI.

Schexnider says she's seeing more people suffer from anxiety since the pandemic began and there are resources to help them.

"People clearly need an outlet, a safe space to find support."

The focus on mental health has become an even sharper since the tragic suicide of a Manhattan emergency room doctor. 

Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital died in Charlottesville, Va. from self-inflicted injuries.

The tragedy sparked Governor Ralph Northam, during his tri-weekly news conference Monday, to speak about the need for people to lean on each other and seek help during the pandemic.

"We as a society need to find ways to come together and find support groups and let individuals know, you know, it's OK if you have a bad day or if you're experiencing undue stress," he said

NAMI asks that people in crisis call 911, the National Suicide Lifeline 800-273-TALK, Text NAMI to 741-741, or visit their Crisis Intervention page.

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