With new funding, Fairfax County to shore up youth mental health services

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Board is based in the Sharon Bulova Center for Community Health (via Google Maps)

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board will have more money for mental health services, thanks to recent state budget amendments.

The CSB provides services related to mental health, substance use and developmental disabilities. Additional funding could include $2.5 million to cover both staff pay increases and the state’s program to standardize behavioral health community services (STEP-VA).

“We’re kind of getting geared up for all of these great new resources coming, but…me and my staff will be quite busy over the next half year to a year with making sure we get all of these things stood up,” Fairfax-Falls Church CSB Executive Director Daryl Washington told the Board of Supervisors health and human services committee on Oct. 17.

Northern Virginia is likely to receive about 20% of the $78 million allocated for regional initiatives, Washington said.

Washington also told the committee there are five staff vacancies in the CSB’s youth outpatient unit, down from more than three times that at the height of the pandemic. Still, those vacancies make it challenging for the board to meet its goal timeline in assigning youth to treatment,  he said.

The CSB would ideally make assignments within 14 calendar days or 10 business days of a youth’s initial assessment. After that point, statistics have shown that people are less likely show up to an ongoing therapy program, Washington said.

“Those five vacancies represent around 125 youth being served at any one point in time,” Washington said. “I really think, if we were fully staffed with those five, that we would be hitting our goal based upon the additional youth that we’d be able to serve.”

The CSB is also looking for an appropriate location to build a regional program that would be licensed as a medically-managed detox center, a youth crisis stabilization center, a youth substance abuse treatment center and a type of youth group home aftercare center, Washington said.

This facility could provide a long-term alternative to Virginia’s one youth state hospital, according to Washington.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know if the youth state hospital is the best place for folks to receive care at right now anyway,” he said. “We really try to focus on getting our youth at some of our local private hospitals whenever we can. I think that’s going to be a multi-year issue that’s not going to go away and that finding some type of either regional or local solution that’s going to work for our kids is probably the better long-term solution for us to go with.”

The closure of several state psychiatric hospitals in 2021 has also created a widespread shortage of beds for adults in crisis. In its most recent annual report, the Fairfax-Falls Church CSB said it had 1,353 individuals waiting in emergency rooms for as long as six days due to a lack of psychiatric inpatient beds.

The 2022 Fairfax County Youth Survey, which was released last month, found declines from 2021 in the percentages of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students who reported stress, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, though Washington said there’s still work to be done.

Overall, 23.5% of students reported high stress, 28.9% had depressive symptoms, 10.7% had considered suicide and 4.1% had attempted suicide. Non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students were at higher risk of experiencing those issues than their peers, according to Washington’s presentation.

“To have that much of a disparity going on across the board is a significant statistic and something that we need to continue to take a look at,” Washington said, suggesting the county should develop targeted interventions.

Students who said they used substances were also more likely to have considered suicide than peers who did not use substances.

The county is also working to enhance its mental health services, a priority for Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, by expanding the police department’s co-responder program and piloting a telehealth program.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board’s emergency services can also be reached 24/7 at 703-573-5679. If the situation is immediately life-threatening, call 911 and ask for a crisis intervention team officer.

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