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Henrico agency launches “Ask The Question” campaign to reduce suicide rate

The campaign’s launch coincides with what officials call a “vulnerable” time of year for those who may be experiencing mental health issues.

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A Henrico County agency has launched a new suicide-prevention campaign to encourage people to speak up if someone close to them appears in distress, county leaders announced this week.

The “Ask The Question” campaign asks individuals to reach out with the simple question, “are you thinking about suicide?” if a friend, neighbor or loved one indicates that he or she might be contemplating such action. By initiating a dialogue, individuals can be directed to support services and other resources. The campaign, spearheaded by the Prevention Services unit of the Henrico Area Mental Health & Development Services department, is using social media as well as advertisements on GRTC Transit System buses that will run through the end of 2016 to get the word out.

“This is a very vulnerable time of year for a lot of people,” said Dr. Patricia Hill, Prevention Services manager with the department. “The message behind the “Ask The Question” campaign is to keep spreading information to save lives.”

The suicide rate peaks in the spring and the fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Ask The Question” encourages individuals to raise awareness and share their experiences using #ATQ16 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The program’s website also provides links to information and resources, including a quiz, warning signs that someone may be experiencing mental health distress, and access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and other support organizations.

Each year in Virginia, three times as many people die by suicide than by homicide, and one person commits suicide every eight hours on average. Suicide also is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the state.

Learn more about the program and take the quiz here.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

Capital News Service

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By Sam Fowler

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.

Juneteenth marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.

“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held that day. “It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginia, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the legislative session earlier this year to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance.

Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order that gave executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, also observed the holiday this year.

“I think it is overdue that the Commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “It was a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.”

The Elegba Folklore Society, a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history and arts, is one of the groups that has been celebrating the holiday for decades. The celebration usually is a three-day weekend event that looks at the history of Juneteenth. A torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond is also held, said Janine Bell, the society’s president and artistic director.

“We take time to just say thank you to our ancestors, their contributions, their forfeitures, their trials and tribulations,” Bell said. “We invite people to Richmond’s African burial ground so that we can go there and pay homage from a perspective of African spirituality.”

Juneteenth should not be used as another holiday to look for bargains in stores, Bell said. It should be a time for reflection about liberty, as well as for celebration and family strengthening.

“It’s a time for optimism and joy,” Bell said.

The Elegba Folklore Society broadcasted its Juneteenth event online this year due to the coronavirus. Although there were still around 7,000 views, Bell said that it is usually much larger and has international influence.

Cries for police reform and social justice continue to increase, Bell said. More attention is being drawn to the racial disparities across America. With this, people have been changing their priorities concerning issues such as discrimination.

“This was a step towards equity,” Bell said about the bill. “A symbolic step, but a step nonetheless.”

State workers will be off during Juneteenth. If the job requires individuals to come in to work, then they will be compensated with overtime or extra pay, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron for the bill.

The General Assembly wrapped up the agenda last week for the special session that began Aug. 18. Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice reform and issues related to COVID-19.

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Stoney administration proposes surplus funds to address three public health needs in city

The Stoney administration, working alongside Richmond City Health District, has proposed $500,000 of special-purpose reserves from the projected FY2020 budget surplus go to funding three distinct public health efforts in the city.

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The Stoney administration, working alongside Richmond City Health District, has proposed $500,000 of special-purpose reserves from the projected FY2020 budget surplus go to funding three distinct public health efforts in the city.

The mayor is proposing the following:

  1. $200,000, Resource Center Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Pilot, partnering with Richmond City Health District, Richmond Behavioral Health Authority. The yearlong pilot will fund a full-time clinician, a licensed substance use disorder counselor, and a peer recovery specialist to work out of RCHD’s resource centers and provide necessary services to residents in their communities.
  2. $150,000, Richmond Doula Fund, partnering with Richmond City Health District. The Doula Fund will reimburse doulas for services and fund doula training with the goal of decreasing racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes.
  3. $150,000, Gun Violence Prevention Framework, partnering with Richmond City Health District. These funds will support the development of a hybrid gun violence prevention model based on national best practices and community input. With this funding, the model will be finalized in early 2021.

“The pandemic has highlighted a troubling network of health disparities that threaten the quality of life for many Richmonders,” said the mayor. “With these three proposed allocations, Richmond City Council has the opportunity to support our effort to address these disparities, building a healthier city for all.”

The Richmond City Council will discuss the potential allocations at the informal meeting on Monday, October 12. The council will have the opportunity to reach a consensus on using surplus funds to support these three innovative and detailed public health efforts.

Mayor Stoney indicated on September 15, 2020, that he would propose special-purpose reserves be allocated in part to address health disparities in the city. All three of the above projects aim to allocate more resources to historically underserved communities.

For more details on the three efforts this allocation would fund, click here.

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Spanberger, Freitas race outspends presidential campaign in Virginia 

A closely contested congressional race has spent almost $1.7 million more on political advertisements in Virginia than the presidential campaign.

Capital News Service

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By Brandon Shillingford

A closely contested congressional race has spent almost $1.7 million more on political advertisements in Virginia than the presidential campaign.

More than $11 million has been spent on ads for the Congressional 7th District race. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the incumbent Democrat, faces challenger Nick Freitas, a Republican state delegate. The district includes Culpeper, Chesterfield, Henrico and Nottoway counties.

Meanwhile, more than $9 million has been spent in Virginia this year on ads for the presidential election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. The data posted on the Virginia Public Access Project’s website includes money spent on broadcast TV, cable, radio, and internet ads.

This is Spanberger’s first re-election campaign, after defeating two-term Republican incumbent Dave Brat in 2018.

“The 7th District of Virginia is one of the marquee congressional elections in the country and is drawing very significant amounts of money,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Fredericksburg-based University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies. “Virginia may not be getting the attention it received four or eight years ago, but the 7th District is one of three highly competitive congressional districts in Virginia.”

The Democrats have outspent more Republican candidates in both races. More than $6.6 million has been invested in ads that are either pro-Spanberger or anti-Freitas, while there has been $4.4 million invested in ads that promote Freitas or criticize Spanberger.

Biden and groups supporting him have spent more than $6 million on ads compared to nearly $3 million spent to promote Trump.

Farnsworth sees this as less of an anomaly but more of a continuing strategy in presidential campaigns.

“The nature of the way the state has changed over these last several election cycles, new donations to presidential campaigns would be better off being directed to states that are more competitive, like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Ohio,” he said. “Polls have shown Virginia wouldn’t be the best place to spend your presidential campaign dollars in 2020.”

Other closely contested congressional races are the 2nd District in Hampton Roads and the 5th District, which stretches from Fauquier County in Northern Virginia to Danville in Southern Virginia. Democrats have also outspent their opponents in these races.

“All three districts are winnable for the Democrats and Republicans, and this results in a very large amount of donations and large sums of money spent on advertisements,” Farnsworth said.

More than $8 million has been spent on ads in the 2nd Congressional District, while more than $4 million has been spent in the race for the 5th Congressional District.

The 5th District has also been in the headlines lately due to Republicans declining to re-nominate incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman after he officiated a same-sex wedding in 2019. Republicans instead nominated Bob Good who won the primary and is running against Democrat Cameron Webb.

However, the 7th District is unique because of the different segments of the electorate that live within it, making it an invaluable asset to candidates, Farnsworth said.

“You have suburban voters in the Richmond area and suburban voters in the Fredericksburg area, then a number of more rural jurisdictions in between,” he said.

Farnsworth pointed out that the 7th District was originally drawn to help Republicans get elected, but has recently struggled to do so due to the lack of support from suburban voters during the Trump administration. Over $4 million was spent on broadcast ads to elect Spanberger in 2018, with spending for Brat’s campaign trailing behind at just over $3 million.

“One of the effects of the Trump presidency has been increasingly aggressive donations on the part of Democrats,” he said. “The 7th District is a highly competitive district, that’s why both Democrats and Republicans are investing very large sums of money in that contest.”

The most money in the 7th District race has been invested in broadcast ads, followed by cable, radio and Facebook, respectively, according to VPAP.

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