May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Innovation Health Chief Medical Officer Sunil Budhrani urges Virginians to start a conversation about mental health. Budhrani moderated the Digital Health panel at NVTC’s Health Care Informatics & Analytics Conference on May 5.


Even for a medical expert, mental health can be a difficult topic to talk about.

I know the terminology, proper treatment plans and resources. But as a society (even among health providers), we often don’t know how to talk to those in need of mental health support – sometimes including ourselves. It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. It’s personal. So we don’t share. Don’t ask. Don’t act. And suicide rates across our nation skyrocket.

We need to talk about mental health.

When I joined Innovation Health as Chief Medical Officer last month, I sat down with my team and we made a collective decision. We decided to speak from our own personal experiences with mental health, however imperfectly. Because talking about mental health is the best way to truly help remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions.

Working as an ER doctor, I frequently saw patients whose anxiety and depression had gone unmanaged and ultimately led them to attempt suicide. Some I was able to help. For others there was nothing I could do. I realized that many times these patients weren’t getting the help they needed because they feared being labeled or misunderstood. Time and again, I saw that the cost of not treating these symptoms could be fatal.

Now, after so many years, so many news reports, and seeing so many of my colleagues and friends struggle, it is clear to me that we must confront the topic of mental health head-on if we are truly going to make a difference.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I hope it will be a catalyst for this critical conversation, which impacts so many Americans.

The proof is in the numbers: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in four adults and one in five children in the U.S.  has a diagnosable mental health condition. In Virginia, more than 230,000 adults – roughly 3.8 percent of the population – have experienced a serious mental illness. These facts tell me one thing; we are not alone. We all know someone, work with someone, or love someone who struggles with mental illness. We may struggle with it ourselves. The fact is that anxiety, depression and substance abuse touch every community. The time to accept this is now. The time to speak up and reach out is now.

Many people don’t get the services they need because they don’t know where to start. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can start the healing process by following these three steps:

  1. Talk to a primary care physician about your mental health. They can help connect you with the right mental health support. If you do not have a PCP, I highly recommend you select one for your general health care needs.
  2. Educate yourself. Visit the Innovation Health website to take a depression or anxiety assessment or call 703-289-7560 to schedule an in-person assessment with a trained counselor.
  3. Be proactive about mental well-being. If you know someone who may be experiencing symptoms related to a mental health condition, encourage them to get the help they need.

It is never easy or comfortable to approach situations like this, but as a community we can’t let our fear or doubts stop us from helping others or ourselves dealing with mental illness. Talk about metal health with your family, friends and colleagues not just this month, but all year.

Together we can work to build a healthier world. But first, we have to start the conversation.

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