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Letter | James Reinhard

Most people will be affected in some way by mental illness during their lifetimes. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 26 percent of Americans over age 18 will suffer from a mental disorder in a given year. Though mental illness is quite common in our society, it is widely misunderstood. Mental Health Month this May gives us an opportunity to better inform ourselves about mental illness.

Many myths about mental illness persist, such as people with mental illness are likely to be violent. In truth, the risk of violence among the mentally ill is small, as they are more often victims of violence than perpetrators of it. Also, many people believe a mental illness diagnosis is hopeless. However, today’s treatment is highly effective and recovery is indeed possible – even people with the most serious mental illnesses can lead active, productive lives. Virginia is working to reform its public mental health system into one that includes more and better treatment options and focuses on individuals and their paths to recovery.

I hope you’ll seek to understand the facts about mental illness. To learn more about services or get help, contact one of Virginia’s local community services boards ( or advocacy groups ( Doing so can make a difference in your life or in the life of a loved one.


– James Reinhard, M.D., is the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.

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