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The Mind Itself is a podcast about mental health & mental health law, and how it affects all aspects of our daily lives. By taking a deeper dive into how our society deals with mental health medically, legally, and practically, listeners gain insight and information about one of America’s most pressing and often overlooked issues.

Aug 10, 2021

Today, John Whitbeck chats with Bruce Cruser, the executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia.  


Bruce’s Background  


Bruce has always been passionate about social change, policy and mental health. While earning a degree in social work, Bruce focused on the criminal justice system, policy and advocacy. In particular, he focused on how incarceration impacts family and children, which led to his work in the community correction program in Henrico county. During his twenty years in the community correction program, he saw the impact of trauma and addiction, and its relationship to crime. About five years ago, Bruce switched jobs to Mental Health America of Virginia, where he is now.  


Mental Health America of Virginia  


Mental Health America of Virginia began in 1937 by a psychologist who was concerned about the practice of sterilization of individuals in mental hospitals. Over the years, it has evolved to tackle other relevant mental health issues, advocating that mental health is a part of overall health.  


Access to Mental Health Providers  


John and Bruce discuss the current state of mental health laws, and how many of them are reactive instead of proactive. Bruce points to one of the biggest problems with mental health practices in Virginia and that is access. Although some counties may have many available phycologists or psychiatrists, others have very little. If there is a mental health provider, many are not affordable to those who need it most. Even still, there may not be the right type of mental health services for each individual’s needs. 


Housing is Healthcare  


One of the important but sometimes overseen aspects of mental health is housing. A problem that Bruce has seen over and over again is that there are many people who are healthy enough to be discharged from hospitals but don’t have anywhere to go. While they could thrive in independent housing, they do need support systems to prevent them falling back into crisis. Additionally, there is a lack of affordable housing in general, never mind for those who struggle with mental illness.  


$15 Minimum Wage 


Bruce touches on why the $15 minimum wage relates to mental health. There are those individuals who have struggled with mental illness that once recovered, can become a certified pure recovery specialist. Bruce relays that they are an invaluable profession in the mental health workforce. However, if they can’t earn a livable wage, that profession can’t grow or have an impact on the mental health crisis.  


Mental Health Services in Schools  


In speaking about the mental health of adolescence, Bruce believes there should be mental health providers in schools. While many schools may have guidance counselors, those professionals end up fulfilling other roles such as bus duty or even substituting. Bruce, however, believes the conversation around this topic is increasing and will continue to do so. 


Mental Health and Rights  


Something that unfortunately happens to those in a mental health crisis is the stripping of certain rights. Typically, by the time an individual arrives at a state mandated hospital, they are no longer in crisis. However, on the way to that hospital, they may be handcuffed and surrounded by police for hours while a spot is found for them. This can force more trauma on the individual when usually, they just need time to sober up or calm themselves. Bruce encourages local care, such as local professionals who can help the individuals on the spot. In this scenario, the individual will receive help while staying in the same facility. 


Recent Funding  


Recently, the governor of Virginia has proposed over $485 million in funding for mental health services. As of right now, state hospitals are having a difficult time keeping mental health professionals and patients safe, due to lack of resources. This money comes as a great “down payment” as Bruce says and will be used to handle staffing shortages, which will free up beds and emergency rooms full of people in crisis.  



Mental Health America of Virginia Website