Hands merge together in a show of support (via spurekar/Flickr)

Four years ago, Family Counseling Center of Greater Washington volunteer Cindy Han had an idea for how to improve awareness and support of mental health, particularly among Asians and other minority groups.

She shared it with Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, who voiced her support and suggested that Han’s organization — a Vienna-based nonprofit focused on serving the local Korean community — spearhead it.

Her proposal will become a reality tomorrow (Saturday) when the first Fight Suicide Walkathon kicks off at 8:30 a.m. at Lake Fairfax Park (1400 Lake Fairfax Drive) at Shelter J. People are encouraged to preregister at the center’s website.

“Many people shy away [from] seeking the help that they need at the onset,” Han, who now chairs the center’s board, said, adding that she hopes the walkathon will help normalize getting assistance.

Suicide remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., taking the lives of 44,834 people last year, 47,511 people in 2019, and 48,344 people in 2018, according to a recent report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

It was the 10th leading cause of death until last year, when it declined by 5.6 percent, as COVID-19 killed 345,323 people across the country.

The walkathon was slated to occur last summer but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Anthem HealthKeepers Plus of Virginia, a health plan that facilitates services for Medicaid recipients, is sponsoring the walkathon.

Anthem Director of Marketing Thomas Rayner says its members, who range from low-income families to pregnant women and older adults, were particularly affected by the coronavirus in nursing homes and service industries.

As hotels and restaurants faced state-mandated closures, their workers’ lives were thrown into upheaval by lost income and jobs.

“So, they were impacted not only financially, but mentally,” Rayner said.

To supplement its 24-hour NurseLine (1-800-901-0020) and other national suicide resources, HealthKeepers expanded its telehealth capabilities and also contracted with more medical providers for mental health services.

Han, whose husband retired from practicing medicine, says mental health is unlike other ailments, where medical providers can use temperature checks, an MRI, or other tools to help diagnose an individual’s condition.

Communication is a key component of addressing mental health experiences, she says, and so, residents who might not speak English fluently might not get the help they need if a provider doesn’t have any multilingual capabilities.

The Family Counseling Center of Greater Washington, which has bilingual staff, catering to Koreans and other Asian Americans, has seen a threefold increase in the number of people seeking its services during the pandemic, Han says.

The nonprofit has expanded into telehealth and provided around 1,900 health sessions and counseling services in 2020, according to its website.

Because of stigma associated with mental health, people can avoid getting help, which can only worsen situations. The American Psychiatric Association says talking about issues and connecting with others with similar experiences can help overturn harmful narratives.

“This kind of stigma is truly…the thing that I’m hoping and our organization is hoping to eradicate,” Han said. “[I] hope the American public would seek help from mental health service providers just like when they have a tummy ache or the flu.”

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is considering harming yourself, help is available. The free, 24/7 call center network National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide assistance at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo via spurekar/Flickr


Updated at 3:55 p.m. — The victims of this morning’s triple murder in Herndon’s Parkridge Gardens apartment complex were all members of the same family, Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard confirmed.

DeBoard said in a press conference at 3:30 p.m. that the man who died by apparent suicide earlier today in Reston made statements prior to his death that led the Fairfax County Police Department to contact the Herndon Police Department and request that they perform a welfare check in the 500 block of Florida Avenue.

A preliminary investigation and assistance from neighbors in the area led officers to a residence where they found the bodies of an adult and two children inside.

Police believe the individual who died by suicide in Reston “had a personal relationship with the adult victim,” DeBoard said.

DeBoard confirmed that there are no remaining public safety concerns, but police are awaiting results from the medical examiner’s office before sharing more information about how the homicide occurred.

She also said that the victims are not being identified yet, because police are still working to contact and interview next-of-kin, and there are no plans at this time to publicly name the juvenile victims.

“I think we will close this fairly quickly,” DeBoard said. “…We have to look at things like motive. We have to ensure that cause of death and all those things are determined without question, and we don’t want to release any of that information until we can put a finite answer on those questions.”

Earlier: An apparent triple homicide reported in Herndon this morning (Saturday) is suspected to be linked to a suicide in Reston, a Herndon Police Department spokesperson says.

A tipster alerted Reston Now that there was significant police activity in Reston Town Center around 8:30 a.m., reportedly after a man jumped off of a parking garage. Reston Now has reached out to the Fairfax County Police Department for confirmation.

According to HPD spokesperson Lisa Herndon, Herndon police received a call from their Fairfax County counterparts at 7:30 a.m. about the suicide, leading officers to go to the 500 block of Florida Avenue for a wellness check.

One adult and two juveniles were then discovered deceased in the home. Herndon did not provide details on what led police to believe the two incidents are connected, but she said the scene in the home is “clearly a homicide.”

“There’s no threat to the community,” Herndon said.

A news conference is currently pending notification of the next of kin, which Herndon says is the father of the family.

Sandstone Care opened up a new Reston branch to the public on July 20. The drug and alcohol rehabilitation center has locations in the DMV area, as well as in Colorado. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, there has been a notable increase in overdoses and suicide deaths, according to Marcello LaRocca, the founder of Sandstone Care. With the enforcement of staying at home and social distancing, it’s not surprising that people are feeling disconnected. 

“The pandemic is bringing about isolation in pretty significant ways,” said LaRocca. “It’s definitely fueling a mental health surge, unfortunately.”

The community-based outpatient program specializes in serving teens and young adults. A big issue the age group is currently facing is uncertainty regarding the fall, specifically whether or not they will be going back to school.  

 Sandstone Care is aiming to support people through virtual services and assessments, while also keeping an in-person option for people when possible. 

“A lot of families, four months into the pandemic, have screen fatigue. Not having that connection can be a real challenge,” said LaRocca. 

The facility is taking many measures to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their day treatment programs, they are enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing and giving temperature screenings. There will be increased sanitation, and only essential personnel are allowed in the office. 

The reception from the public has been very positive. Virginia is a pretty underserved area, especially with resources for teens, according to LaRocca, so there has been a lot of support around their establishment.  

“I think there’s a lot of excitement and support from the other community mental health centers and hospitals,” said LaRocca. “It’s hard to be a human being right now.” 

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. 

Photo via the Sandstone Care/Facebook


Monday Morning Notes

Traffic Changes on Dulles Toll Road and Sunset Hill Road This Week — Lane closures are scheduled beginning today (Monday) through Friday, Nov. 22, along the eastbound and northbound Dulles Toll Road and eastbound Sunset Hills Road near the future Reston Town Center Metro Station. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Owner of Public Interest Registry to Sell Organization — The owner of Reston-based Public Internet Registry, which oversees customers in the .org domain, is set to sell the organization to a private equity company. [Washington Business Journal]

Free Locking Devices Available for Medications, Firearms — The county is offering free cable and trigger locks ad locking medication boxes. Individuals interested in the items can email [email protected] for more information. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr


The deaths of a mother and her two children, who were found in a Herndon home Wednesday evening, are being investigated as a double murder and suicide, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

Noera Ayaz, 42, and her sons were found in the home on the 1000 block of Safa Street around 6:20 p.m. yesterday, according to reports received by Reston Now. The Washington Post also reported the identity of the woman, although the police department has not released the identities or relationships between any of the deceased.

Police believe Ayaz killed her two children and then killed herself. The findings are preliminary and an investigation is ongoing.

The incident was being investigated as a “domestic-related incident” and no threat to public safety was noted. The homeowner, the father of the two children, discovered the bodies when he arrived home Wednesday evening around 6:20 p.m. Police searched the home and found Ayaz upstairs with what police said appeared to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The family, who is Muslim, was active in the local Muslim community and the incident has shaken many local community members.

Ayaz was an accomplished attorney who fought for the rights of immigrants and women. During her early legal career, she worked at the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP, where she worked on intellectual property cases and represented Mulsim women with immigration issues.

She traveled across the world and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University. She received her law degree from Columbia Law School. In the local community, Ayaz was known for her work as the director of Women in Islam, Inc., an organization that aimed to address issues linked to the Muslim community and build understanding across cultural boundaries.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, police said. Crime scene detectives searched the home to gather information about the incident after executing a search warrant, police said. Detectives continue their investigation to determine what led to the shooting.

No other information was immediately available.

Photos via FCPD


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