The Heart of My Head

By Kimberly R. Nario

“There’s not really anything we can do to help you.” Or maybe it was, “We can’t do anything to help you.” His exact words are lost to my memory, but I know I was around 16 years old when I found myself sitting in a guidance counselor’s office, ugly crying to this almost stranger’s blank stare. I can’t remember what I said, but I remember feeling… everything, everything awful. Twenty years later, I wonder if that conversation would have been different if it had happened today.

Last week, Axios Richmond reported kids in the Commonwealth are going to emergency rooms seeking mental health help. At the end of 2023, the Virginia Mercury reported on the severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. Henrico recently reported a 42% increase in suicide-risk screenings. It’s clear that much-needed resources aren’t reaching Virginia’s youth.

Based on the response of the guidance counselor I spoke to, I think we can all confidently agree that kids in the early 2000s didn’t have the resources (a lot of us barely had the language) to talk about their mental health. As Virginia state legislators gear up for a special session to finalize the budget, here’s hoping they make some investments into mental health resources for Virginia’s youth.

Sometime after my visit with that guidance counselor, I was sitting in the waiting room of the nurse’s office, waiting for my mom to pick me up in the midst of an emotional breakdown. I heard a noise and looked up, one of my favorite teachers was walking past. I don’t know where she was walking to–maybe to lunch or a quick break, something we know doesn’t happen enough for our teachers–but whatever it was, she put it aside and sat with me. 

She put her arm around me and asked me questions that I was scared to answer. But she created the space, the trust, and the safety for me to answer honestly. When my mom arrived, they spoke to each other for a few minutes. They were right next to me, but I can’t remember if I even heard them. What I do remember is that moment kickstarted the healing part of my mental health journey. 

Just like I wonder about my conversation with that guidance counselor, I wonder what would have happened if that teacher hadn’t seen me, if she hadn’t stopped to sit with me, if she hadn’t spoken to my mom. What percentage would I fall into?

Next month is Mental Health Awareness Month. But we don’t need to wait to do something! 

Follow the work of groups like our partners, Voices for Virginia’s Children and Equality Virginia–remember, LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of anxiety, sadness, and depression.

Be loud about gun violence prevention. Governor Youngkin vetoed several bills that could have helped save countless lives in the Commonwealth. Do you know what was the leading killer of kids during the pandemic? Guns.  

Give teachers, staff, and students the resources they need to address concerns in meaningful ways and thrive by urging legislators to pass a budget with real investments in mental health. 

And remember that you’re not in this fight alone. If you or someone you know are in crisis or need support, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. 

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