Removing the stigma of mental health and addiction


Alan Rasmussen, of Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services, talks to a crowd during a Saving Lives Together seminar at Open Minds: Talking together about mental health and addiction Tuesday at Germanna Communty College’s Daniel Technology Center. The community conversation, hosted by Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center, attracted more than 100 people to talk opening up about mental health and addiction.
Photo by Ian Chini
Dr. Karyn O’Brien, a clinical psychologist and senior director of behavioral health services at Novant Health UVA Health System speaks during Open Minds Tuesday at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center.
Photo by Ian Chini

You don’t have to suffer in silence.

That was the message Tuesday evening at Open Minds: Talking together about mental health and addiction.

Hosted by Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Center, the seminar was an opportunity to invite community members to talk about a subject that is often overlooked or not willing to be discussed – mental health and addiction.

Spearheaded by Sharon Clark, owner of Pepperberries and a board member of the Culpeper Medical Center, the event brought together 31 exhibitors and multiple mental health professionals to talk about warning signs of mental illness and addiction and how to bring the subject out into the light.

Clark, who vividly and openly shared her story of being on antidepressants, talked about how a friend had reached out to her for help. Her friend’s family member had attempted suicide three times and the family didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Clark admitted neither did she.

So that’s when she began meeting with groups from Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services, spearheaded by Alan Rasmussen and began formulating a plan to help the community actually discuss mental health.

Hence, Open Minds was born.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Clark said during her emotional speech. “Treat each other the way you want to be treated. It’s OK to talk about our feelings. It’s OK to ask for help.”

Dr. Karyn O’Brien, a clinical psychologist and senior director of behavioral health services at Novant Health UVA Health System, said that erasing the negative perception and stigma of mental health is key to getting people help.

“There is a lot of shame associated with the disease of mental health and addiction,” O’Brien said. “Part of what we’re doing here tonight is opening the door of communication to let people know this is a medical disease just like diabetes or cancer.”

She said that people know that it’s recommended to visit your doctor once a year for a medical check up or twice a year for a dental visit. However, there is no guideline for having a mental health checkup.

She recommended that people open up to their medical providers to let them know how they are feeling – especially if they are down and may be depressed.

“We have to start the conversation,” she said.

More than 100 people filled Germanna Tuesday, talking to health care professionals and hopefully starting the conversation. Sprinkled throughout the room were organizations who deal with depression, suicide and substance abuse. O’Brien pointed to the important partnerships with those coalitions through RRCS.

“It’s beyond essential, it’s critical,” O’Brien said. “We can’t do it by ourselves.”

It all starts with talking, she stressed. Pointing out that there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan for mental health and addiction.

Tuesday night was a step in the right direction, to encourage people to start talking about a subject that has been swept under the rug for too long.

“It means everything,” O’Brien said. “If a person can walk out of here empowered to talk about their mental health and addiction concerns we’ve helped. We want the entire community to be able to talk about it and not feel awkward and uncomfortable.”

About Jeff Say 252 Articles
Jeff Say is the editor for the Culpeper Times. He can be reached at