Heads-Up Guidance Services breaks barriers providing affordable, accessible mental health services in Savannah

Updated May 30, 2023 at 6:18 p.m.

Courtesy of Heads-Up Guidance Services

With Memorial Day behind us, May is coming to a close, but with just days remaining in the month, it’s worthwhile to acknowledge an important observance taking place throughout its duration. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about mental health that has been observed since 1949. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness and less than half of them receive treatment. Oftentimes, people don’t seek treatment because of mental health stigma and barriers to access. Mental Health Awareness Month is a vital opportunity to open dialogue about mental health, reducing stigma, spreading awareness and promoting resources while advocating for those in need. Locally, there is an organization committed to making mental health services and resources accessible to any motivated individual who needs them.

Founded in 2009, Heads-Up Guidance Services is a local nonprofit that provides professional behavioral health counseling and addiction recovery services to community members in need throughout the greater Savannah area. 

“Our mission is to make quality mental health counseling and addiction recovery services available for all motivated individuals,” said Andrea Epting, HUGS founder and managing director. “The second part of our mission is to train up the next generation of quality professionals to meet community needs. . . We’re making mental health services available at the rate of $25 and do so by utilizing professional volunteers who give back to their community in such a big way.” 

HUGS is able to offer these services to the public at such a low cost because they are provided by a volunteer team. 

“All of the clinicians serve pro bono, and we have quite a few clinicians providing multiple services a week, so we’re really making a dent in that community need,” Epting explained. 

The affordability of services makes HUGS accessible to essentially anyone with the motivation to seek and undergo treatment regardless of insurance or socioeconomic status. Thus, under-insured or lower-income individuals who might be turned away from other mental health agencies can be accommodated at HUGS. 

This accessibility and removal of barriers is likely one of the reasons why HUGS was voted Best Mental Health Agency by the local community in Connect Savannah’s 2023 Best of Savannah competition. 

“It feels great. It feels like we got it right. Other organizations provide very good services, but they don’t do it in the way we do by utilizing volunteer professionals. They’re not doing it for $25, and they’re also not doing it without utilizing third-party providers or government funds. We are zero burden on the taxpayer, and those things really set us apart. Yes, we all provide quality services, but HUGS is doing it in a very different way,” she stated. 

HUGS provides a number of services to the public including counseling, therapy, intensive outpatient services and telehealth services among others. They also connect people with helpful resources. It all starts with a free consultation.

“We provide free consultations for everybody. They're free 15 minute consultations because not everybody is HUGS appropriate, which means they might need a different level of care, something a little bit more intensive. And so we provide diversion services free of charge to get them where they need to go in the community. For people who can thrive in an outpatient setting, they can receive individual services at HUGS for $25,” Epting explained. “We have a variety of different groups available for many, many populations. We work with a child and adolescent population as well as adults. We work with mental health. We also work in addiction recovery. And because we have so many different professionals with different backgrounds and expertise specializing in different populations, really the sky’s the limit [regarding] the individuals that we’re able to work with.” 

Epting shared that last year, HUGS served more than 195 people with an average of 50 individuals receiving services on a weekly basis. HUGS only provides outpatient services, working with people who are committed to their care, and they address a variety of mental health needs.

“A lot of [our clients] are experiencing what we would call stuckness, so they might be struggling relationally. They might be struggling with addiction. They might be struggling with grief and loss and with all of that comes, of course, anxiety and depression. We work a lot with trauma and complex PTSD. We work a lot with developmental trauma and insecure attachments. We see all of those things daily,” she described. 

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can impact anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity, race, nationality, orientation or socioeconomic status. For this reason, it is important to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health to cultivate a culture in which seeking help is normalized. Epting believes that having more conversations about mental health is essential to destigmatization. 

“I think the more that we talk about it, the more we have the opportunity to change dysfunctional systems. . . If we advocate enough and speak loud enough, then people will catch on,” she remarked. 

She explained that people should prioritize mental health because “it’s the basis of our functioning.”

“Our mental health covers our feelings, our emotions, our bodies, our sensations and the relationship between body and mind and our actions and behaviors. If we are not going to look at that, we’re probably not going to thrive in our jobs. We’re not going to thrive in our relationships. We’re not going to thrive in life. And so, because I think we deserve to be the best version of ourselves, that’s why we want to prioritize mental health,” she added. 

For anyone who may be struggling with their mental health, Epting had this advice:

“It’s tough, so I won’t pretend that it’s not, but move into a place of willing, not want. Get out of want to. Get into willing to and see if accepting help changes your life.”

Some positive mental health practices that she recommends include journaling, exercise, meditation and practicing mindfulness. She also highlighted the importance of drawing on community and connections with others. Community is at the heart of HUGS mission. They provide much-needed services within the community, and they are grateful for the community’s support. 

“We have become a very vital part of the heartbeat of Savannah in the last nearly 15 years. And without our community support, we won’t be able to continue to do that,” Epting stated. 

She says the public can help support the mission at HUGS by becoming a friend of HUGS online with a monthly donation of $25. 

“We just want the community to support us and let it be a full-circle experience.”

To learn more about HUGS, visit headsupsavannah.org/

Published May 30, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.


Chantel Britton

Chantel Britton is a compelling storyteller with an ever-growing curiosity. She's built a rewarding writing career for herself in addition to serving five years as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. She's an NPR nerd with a deep passion for all things travel, sustainable living and adventure. She...
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