The new Executive Director of the Fauquier County Mental Health Association Renee Norden works to educate and destigmatize mental illness
“Growing up, I thought everyone knew what I knew about mental health,” said Renee Norden, Executive Director of the Fauquier County Mental Health Association. Growing up in Warrenton since the early ’70s with her mother as a Substance Abuse Counselor at Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services and her physician father both active in serving the community, she came to know a lot more about mental health than most. She explained, “You don’t realize how much influence your parents have on your path,” as she spoke about her passion for her mission to educate the community and open the lines of communication about mental illness.
“When I was little, I remember my aunts and mom would whisper about someone having cancer,” She said. “These days, people are willing to talk about cancer. I want people to be willing to talk about mental health like it’s a medical concern. I want people to know that these conditions are treatable. One out of five people is experiencing a mental health concern right now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they felt okay to reach out for help?”
When Norden accepted the position of Executive Director at the non profit last fall, she knew she had big shoes to fill. She has known the previous Executive Director, Sallie Morgan, for years, and has watched her grow MHA from just one employee into an organization whose influence can be felt strongly throughout our community in youth programs, substance abuse programs, and overall in helping Fauquier County and Rappahannock County residents lead fulfilling lives with access to mental health care.
Prior to this position, Norden held the position of Director for Guidance and College Counseling at Highland School in Warrenton for 14 years, providing counseling to students, families and staff, and coordinating care for students with mental health providers. While at Highland, she also served on the Mental Health School Coalition, working with other community stakeholders to address youth mental health concerns. Renee also has been instructing Youth Mental Health First Aid since 2015.
The Teen Mental Health First Aid Program aims to teach teens how to support themselves and each other with mental health struggles. MHA wants them to know who to go to for help, how to increase their protective factors and how to decrease their risk factors. “The more young people we can equip with knowledge, the more likely it is that people will get help quicker,” Norden said. “The average person waits 10 years to get help for mental health concerns.”
She is extremely passionate about making sure that MHA is able to touch each and every member of the community in a positive way and is looking forward to expanding their outreach. Most recently, MHA has partnered with Fauquier County Public Schools in order to launch a pilot Teen Mental Health Program in schools all over the county. “We applied for grants to be able to train three teachers in each Fauquier and Rappahannock high school to teach about teen mental health first aid to every 10th grader,” Norden said. “We’ll be doing that in fall of 2021 and I’m excited for us to be reaching the whole class of 10th graders. We also asked the Come As You Are Coalition (CAYA), a local nonprofit concentrating on substance abuse, to fund an independent teen mental health first aid instructor so that we could reach the independent schools, as well.”
On a normal day, there are millions of people across the country suffering from mental health concerns. With COVID-19 requiring people to stay at home, mental health issues are more rampant than ever. “Pervasive loneliness brought about by COVID-19 has the impact on physical health of about 15 cigarettes a day,” Norden said, citing a recent Cigna study. “It shows us that mental health concerns actually have physical body ramifications. We have no idea how long it’s going to take for our mental health to bounce back, so it’s important to address these concerns.”
The MHA is available to do presentations to businesses and organizations regarding mental health concerns, handling anxiety, how to help yourself through COVID-19, and more. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at fauquier-mha.org to learn more.