Federal CARES Act funding will help address suicide in the region as part of Valley Health’s new Suicide Prevention Program at Winchester Medical Center.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded $745,255 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to strengthen the suicide and domestic violence prevention services at the medical center's Emergency Department, Valley Health has announced.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health, a Valley Health news release explains. The initiative will increase critical services and affect the way individuals in mental health crisis are cared for, it states.

The project includes “access to brief prevention interventions, validated risk assessment, treatment, transitional psychiatric care, safer care transitions, and enhanced domestic violence services,” the release states.

Its goal is to “turn the tide of suicide risk and loss in our region during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The grant was awarded to the medical center in partnership with George Mason University.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley region has among the highest suicide rates in Virginia (13.7-19.0 per 100,000 people), the release notes.

“COVID-19 has caused profound economic and social disruption worldwide, with significant mental health repercussions, especially among those already at risk for behavioral health issues and domestic violence,” Karen Dorr, program director and executive director of Behavioral Health at the medical center, states in the release.

The Emergency Department has seen an increase in suicide concerns, including among people with no previous history of mental health or substance use.

Crisis hotlines have been flooded with calls, and suicides are expected to increase as people endure the challenges of the pandemic, such as isolation, loss, unemployment and instability, the release states.

The Suicide Prevention Project offers an opportunity to address increases in suicide and domestic violence during the pandemic, licensed clinical psychologist Patty Ferssizidis states in the release.

Ferssizidis, an assistant research professor with GMU’s College of Health and Human Services, School of Nursing, is helping oversee the project.

Valley Health has collaborated with GMU since 2016 on a behavioral health initiative to implement the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment program to address addiction and depression in the Emergency Department, the release states.

The project will enable Winchester Medical Center to serve its community by:

Increasing access to brief suicide prevention and domestic violence interventions.

Establishing an outpatient treatment service for people with suicide and domestic violence risk.

Enhancing suicide-specific treatment in acute care clinics.

Increasing psychiatric services during care transitions.

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