After losing his son to suicide, this Virginia senator knew he needed to act.

Sen. Creigh Deeds of Virginia understands the importance of mental health care better than most.

In the midst of a mental health crisis, he was stabbed by his son Gus 13 times on Nov. 19, 2013, before Gus shot himself and died by suicide.  Deeds survived the attack, dumbfounded by what happened.

The day before the incident, a judge had issued an emergency custody order to place Gus in a mental health facility. But due to a bed shortage, he was released after just six hours.


It was a tragedy — and one that should have been prevented. Gus and his father were close. During Deeds' 2009 run for governor, Gus was a mainstay at Deeds' campaign events. His violent outburst seemed out of character to everyone, including Deeds.

Deeds hugs his son on election night 2009. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

In the wake of his son's death, Deeds set out to fix Virginia's mental health system — and this July, a law he championed went into effect.

Virginia and New York have both enacted legislation to require schools to include mental health-related issues as part of physical education and health courses. Virginia will mandate the development of a mental health curriculum for high schools, while New York will require it to be covered throughout K-12 classes.

In 2014, Deeds introduced a bill to double the maximum amount of time people could be held on emergency custody orders (12 hours, up from six), as well as creating a more streamlined communications process between law enforcement and local community services boards. That bill was signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we don't devote nearly enough resources to it.

The overwhelming majority of people who struggle with mental health problems won't commit a violent act like Gus Deeds. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators.

It's worth noting this because the stereotype of mentally ill people committing horrific acts of violence is prevalent and reinforces stigma surrounding it, putting barriers up to people who might otherwise seek help. (Obviously, as Gus Deeds' situation shows, this isn't to say that no people with mental illness will commit crimes.)

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teens and young adults live with one or more mental health conditions. Half of those will have developed it by the age of 14.

If we want to do more about this issue, we need people to feel safe and comfortable asking for help. The answer isn't to lock people away, but to try to intervene in conditions that only get worse over time.

Working mental health education into school curricula is one small step toward eliminating stigma.

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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