The Chas Foundation is a Norfolk-based nonprofit dedicated to helping those with mental illness and working to dissolve its stigma by offering resources for the mentally ill and their families.
Tucker Corprew, founder of the organization, suffered the loss of her middle son, Chas Kirkwood, who hanged himself on Nov. 14, 2011, at age 34. According to the foundation’s website, “An estimated 30,000 people, many like Chas – a husband, an accomplished chef, skier extraordinaire, and ‘a guy everyone liked’ – commit suicide annually, driven by the throes of depression, bipolarism, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.”
“Unless there is more funding for hospital beds, long-term treatment and easier access to psychiatric help during a crisis (not warehousing in the ER, where there is no treatment), mental illness will continue to rise, and more people will take their lives,” said Corprew, longtime owner of two Norfolk consignment businesses and a board member of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Corprew and her youngest son, Beau Kirkwood, executive director of The Chas Foundation, train law enforcement officers in how to identify and assist individuals with mental illness as part of crisis intervention teams. (See related story, Page 24.)
According to Mental Health America federal data, Virginia ranks No. 9 in the need for mental health services. Those suffering from mental illnesses are sent to jails rather than psychiatric hospitals, and when released, they’re just as ill if not more so than when they entered. The CIT program is a jail diversion effort that attempts to find medical help for those affected.
“The CIT program came about because we had to call the police on numerous occasions, and there were numerous times when we’d have liked to call the police, but we didn’t want our loved one to be taken to jail. We knew implementing this in Norfolk was critical,” Kirkwood said. “Norfolk has done an excellent job of training their staff; we’ve gotten more officers trained quicker than anywhere else in the country.”
Training at the Norfolk Police Department means one 40-hour week of intense training that educates officers on topics such as what mental illness looks like, side effects of drugs and finding resources for the affected families.
“The first half of the class is all educational. We have people from the CSB (Community Services Board) come and discuss adolescent mental illness, geriatric mental illness, focusing on the family community aspect of that,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood then relates his personal story to the police and explains the difficulties the family faces in these situations – 50 percent of people with bipolar and 40 percent of people with schizophrenia have anosognosia, which means they don’t realize they’re sick, making it harder for families to get them treated.
The Chas Foundation is in the process of creating an online resource guide for families and those suffering to be able to turn to.
Kirkwood also hopes to work with State Sen. Creigh Deeds and his mental health task force to create legislation regarding mental illness.
“The Chas Foundation is also committed to increasing community awareness that mental illness is a genetic disorder, not a character flaw,” Corprew said.
Thornton, B. (2015, July 17). “Chas Foundation offers mental illness advocacy, support.” http://insidebiz.com/news/chas-foundation-offers-mental-illness-advocacy-support