Inside his head, Robert Johnson said he could feel that something was wrong, but he didn't know how to address it.
"I felt … like I was less than. I felt broken," Johnson told News4.
Johnson would hear sounds that weren't there. Shadows would move. Then, the weight of his depression came down hard.
"I went through a lot of different emotions. I had suicidal thoughts. Lots of times, I just felt like giving up," he said.
We're making it easier for you to find stories that matter with our new newsletter — The 4Front. Sign up here and get news that is important for you to your inbox.
A growing a number of Northern Virginians are experiencing those feelings.
An estimated 545,000 adults in Northern Virginia, 28%, experienced symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression in fall 2021, according to a survey from Insight Region, The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia’s Center of Community Research.
That's a sharp increase from pre-pandemic times. In 2019, about 8% of people in Northern Virginia reported struggles with their mental health.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
"When people go to get help, they're being confronted with a system that is at capacity or beyond," said Eileen Ellsworth with The Community Foundation For Northern Virginia.
The group is raising money to support organizations that aim to ease the burden on the system. One such organization is the Trillium Center in Woodbridge.
"We model what it's like to have healthy interpersonal relationships, healthy dynamics with other human beings," said Risa Silver with the Trillium Center. "So people know what it's like to have those health experiences and to be able to set their boundaries in the outer world - to be able to be empowered."
Johnson said it saved his life when he came to Trillium nine years ago. It started with a game of pool.
Playing pool with other people who were coping with their own mental health struggles - he wasn't alone anymore.
"And that's when everything clicked that - 'Hey, you know what, I do have a purpose here.'"
Three weeks later, Trillium gave him a job.
The Community Foundation For Northern Virginia will host its annual Shape of the Region Conference on Tuesday to address the need for additional mental health resources.
News4's Drew Wilder is the event host for The Community Foundation's upcoming conference.