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With demand rising, already limited mental health resources are filling up

The World Health Organization estimates a 25% increase in people with anxiety and depression, and that research only considers the first year of the pandemic.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — With limited mental health resources in Virginia, some people are having to wait weeks or even months to see a professional.

During a time where the diagnoses of mental health disorders have increased, the work force is dwindling.

In January 2021, Hampton Roads lost its largest mental healthcare provider. That left hundreds without a place to turn to.

RELATED: A mental health crisis in Hampton Roads? Doctors, patients reveal challenges for growing number of people seeking help

"I don’t think I can overstate how important it is to take care of your mental health," said Angel Bunton, a licensed clinical worker in Portsmouth.

Bunton spends her days working with people who have depression, anxiety -- you name it.

The problem is, her schedule is packed. And she’s not the only one.

"They’re booking appointments as far out as three weeks. You know, some people are waiting months. Up to six months for some folks."

The World Health Organization estimates a 25% increase in people with anxiety and depression, and that research only considers the first year of the pandemic.

They say women and young people were hit the worst so far, and that statistic could only be the tip of the iceberg as research continues.

With demand spiking, the few resources Virginia has to offer are filling up.

"It is a real problem," said Kurt Hooks, the CEO of the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.

Hooks, who also contributes to the state's relatively new Behavioral Health Commission, said losing so much of the workforce in the last few years has had a huge effect on access.

"It’s difficult to understand where to go and how to navigate through the system," he said.

RELATED: Virginia Beach offers hiring, retention incentives to mental and behavioral healthcare workers

For some, a long wait time can be detrimental.

"If they haven’t escalated to the point of crisis, they’re waiting longer to see a provider and they may be more likely then to escalate to the point of a higher level of crisis that would require them, in some cases, to be hospitalized for safety reasons."

While state and local lawmakers are working to find a long-term solutions, Bunton said there are things you can do on your own to help while you wait to see a professional.

"Something that I call extreme self-care," Bunton said.

She said one option is practicing ‘mindfulness.’ Things like meditation or taking time for yourself.

Bunton said taking a longer walk, being in the sunshine for a little longer and staying socially connected can make a big difference.

"Isolation is a precursor to many mental health disorders," she explained.

Hooks says that from the state and national perspective, a larger emphasis is being placed on boosting resources and recruiting staff.

Bunton said if you aren’t sure where to start to get in to see a professional, contact your local community services board.

Hooks and Bunton both say while resources are limited at the moment, help is out there.

"Please be persistent. Don’t lose hope because there are services and access available. It’s more difficult than it’s been, but it’s certainly still possible to get the help you need."

RELATED: It's World Mental Health Day, so here are some resources

Hooks said it’s not all bad news.

He said they’re starting to see a small, but noticeable increases in their workforce.

The U.S. also just launched a new mental health crisis hotline. Dialing ‘988’ will connect you with trained counselors. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.

RELATED: 988 | New suicide hotline to be implemented nationwide. How Virginia is going a step further.

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