VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is looking to bring awareness to the growing mental health crisis and the need for more mental health professionals.

According to NAMI, one in five people have a mental health illness.

Susannah Uroskie, who is the board president for NAMI Coastal Virginia, says the prevalence of mental health issues was already on the rise in 2019 but the COVID pandemic exacerbated the need for more resources.

“I definitely think it’s so important for the community to be educated about the early warning signs, which is part of the free presentations (that NAMI provides) and what we support with NAMI Coastal Virginia. Early detection and treatment is key if someone is headed for a mental health crisis. Being able to recognize those early warning signs can prevent a lot of negative crises from happening,” she said.

Uroskie says NAMI provides peer-led classes, programs, and groups.

They’re also working to spread awareness through their green light campaign, where many government and local buildings are lighting up green.

“The goal is for someone to say, ‘Why is it lit up green?’ Then spark up the conversation and share the free resources,” Uroskie said.

But there’s a need for more professional resources.

Uroskie says like many other workforces, they’re seeing a shortage in mental healthcare professionals. Her family has witnessed firsthand how the shortages impact families who need help.

Her daughter, Alexa, who has bipolar disorder and works as a volunteer at NAMI, was recently involuntarily admitted into a psychiatric facility after needing help for a while.

“Our daughter desperately needed help. It was very clear, yet the system is broken and she didn’t meet the criteria for her to get assistance. She had to reach crisis level, critical level. That’s what the early identity and treatment. That is key. We don’t want families to get where we were, where we are, with my daughter,” Uroskie said.

She says that being open about mental health helps and people have been receptive to sharing that they too needed to hear about mental health crises.

It can be hard to realize someone is going through something, so Uroskie recommends reaching out to loved ones.

“Having more compassion, having empathy, and taking two seconds to think my friend isn’t acting the way she does and I know her really well, I’ll take the time to check in,” she said.

Uroskie, who is on the Virginia Beach Community Services Board, says many in the community know something needs to be done to get more mental health professionals.

“Everybody understands the need for more mental health professionals. The need is there. Everybody is actively trying to understand how do we recruit? How do we retain? How do we incentivize to come and stay and reinvigorate the field? It’s just so needed,” she said.

NAMI Coastal Virginia is hosting a “Bike the Boardwalk” event on Saturday, May 21 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

It’s an opportunity to come out and talk about mental health as well as bike on the boardwalk. It’s at 24th Street.

If you are in need of mental health resources from NAMI Coastal Virginia, click here.