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First strokes of new Richmond mural mark the start of yearlong campaign to increase awareness of mental health mission
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First strokes of new Richmond mural mark the start of yearlong campaign to increase awareness of mental health mission

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Artist Hamilton Glass helps Richmond Behavioral Health employees paint a mural celebrating their 25th anniversary. The artwork, at 107 South 5th Street in Richmond, Va., will cover the wall facing East Canal Street. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

Tuesday morning marked the beginning of a new mural in Richmond, one promoting hope and connection, and a yearlong initiative that aims to bring awareness of mental health work in the city and surrounding areas.

Richmond Behavioral Health — which serves the city through the RBH Authority, an agency that provides essential care to the community — is celebrating 25 years of work with a mural that local artist Hamilton Glass is painting at the corner of Fifth and Canal streets on the wall of its main office.

The mural will represent the community coming together to promote wellness, health and recovery, but the final design is still under wraps to keep the surprise. It will be unveiled in early August.

“I hope people receive the message as inspiration,” Glass said. “By projecting the symbol of hope on there, I think [RBH] is saying to the community, ‘We’re here to help, aid and assist.’”

The start of the mural also marks the beginning of a yearlong initiative of community engagement and awareness of RBH services and its mission. RBH serves around 13,000 individuals in the city annually — 5% of the population — providing crisis intervention, mental health treatment, substance use treatment and prevention, developmental support and medical services. Thirty-five percent of people served are children, and 30% of people served do not have insurance, Medicaid or other ways to pay.

“One goal is to celebrate, but at the same time, use those celebrations to message the public about who we are, what we do, how we provide vital support within the community,” said RBHA CEO John Lindstrom. “We wanted to bring the public’s attention to the issue of mental health, addictions, developmental disabilities and the impact that they play on individuals’ lives.”

Starting this fall, RBH will host four open houses with food, facility tours, storytelling and speakers to teach the community about the work it does. The first open house will be Sept. 23 at the RBHA North Campus, a residential treatment facility located at the edge of Highland Park. It’s a 13-acre campus with six buildings. The facility has more than 150 beds and offers men’s, women’s, co-occurring and withdrawal programs.

“The first one is scheduled in September, and that one is going to coincide with Recovery Month,” Lindstrom said. “We’ve done substantial renovations on that campus, and we’re looking forward to, if people don’t know it’s there, to learn it’s there.”

The remaining open houses will be Dec. 2 at the RBHA main building; March 17 at the REACH offices in Chesterfield County; and May 12 at the Marshall Center. There, community members can learn more about RBH services and facilities.

Lindstrom said RBH is working to address stereotypes and biases people have regarding mental health and disabilities, and the mural represents the nation’s greater awareness of social issues over the past year.

“There is a great increased awareness, or rediscovery, of some of the foundational challenges around social justice, racial justice, disability justice,” Lindstrom said. “We also wanted to convey our appreciation, our embrace of diversity and the importance of helping each other get through tough times.”

Carla Heath serves as lead peer recovery specialist coordinator for the agency and was a staff volunteer Tuesday morning who helped paint the beginnings of the mural. Heath spoke on the mural’s message and the importance of bringing attention to RBH’s services.

“It conveys a message of hope and how services connect each other,” Heath said. “No one recovers in a vacuum. We need others.”

Glass will continue to paint the mural throughout the next two weeks until its completion. For more information on RBH resources and services, visit www.rbha.org or call (804) 819-4000.

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