This summer was the busiest yet for the new Island Intervention Center, director David Araujo said. The clinic, which opened in July 2017, operates a 24-hour emergency services phone line and provides urgent care for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse crises.

The center saw a 30 per cent increase in visits this summer over last summer, with more than 118 visits between the beginning of June and the end of September.

Mr. Araujo said that’s partly because he and his staff have worked to spread the word about their services. In April 2018, they held a training for law enforcement to strengthen the referral process for first responders. With the help of two staff members who are fluent in Brazilian Portuguese, they have ramped up outreach to the Brazilian community. Intervention center staff have also looked for patterns in demand, trying to get ahead of the seasonal curve.

September is Suicide Awareness month. The second annual walk for suicide prevention and awareness will take place Saturday at dawn at Bend in the Road Beach in Edgartown.

Mr. Araujo said autumn can be a particularly challenging time for Island residents as they go through transitions after what is an exhausting summer for many workers. He said the center has begun outreach to Island employers to let workers know where they can go to get help.

“Because of the hours that they were doing, they got to a point where emotionally or physically, they just started to crash and burn,” he said, speaking about workers he has treated. “People that were working 70 or 80 hours a week in summer.”

Mr. Araujo said Islanders face many mental health-related issues including excessive drinking, substance use disorder, anxiety and depression.

Island Intervention Center director David Araujo. — Mark Alan Lovewell

According to a recent community health assessment conducted by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, rates of binge drinking and youth alcohol and marijuana use are all higher in Dukes County than the rest of the state. Nearly a third of respondents to a hospital survey also reported that they felt depressed more than 10 days out of the previous month. “Add in the seasonal change: dropping in number of hours of daylight and the holidays coming up, it is a bad combination for anyone dealing with depression,” said Lisa Belcastro, who leads the Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

At the intervention center, those in crisis can receive help on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday regardless of insurance coverage. After hours, help is available on the 24-hour emergency line. The center offers urgent mental health care appointments as well as referrals ranging from health insurance access to grief services to youth support.

Mr. Araujo said sudden losses, including the recent death of a student at the regional high school, affect the whole community.

“People are grieving, and grieving is a difficult process,” he said.

When it comes to caring for someone in crisis, Mr. Araujo emphasized listening.

“I think that they’re looking for services, for empathy, for compassion. I think that they’re looking for a person to hear their story,” he said.

Mr. Araujo grew up in Vineyard Haven and graduated from the regional high school. He stays embedded in the community through coaching youth sports. For years he specialized in therapy for young men and boys, and he learned the value of taking them out for a drive to pick up lunch or ice creams during sessions.

Sitting in the passenger seat rather than in an office, he found that his patients felt more comfortable and that they were able to open up.

“I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that therapy is a lot about interventions, but it’s also about building relationships,” Mr. Araujo said. “If you have the capacity to build that relationship and listen to that individual and hear what they’re saying, more than likely they’re going to continue to come back to you and return to you for services. I firmly think it’s about building relationships with individuals and going from there.”

Maria Ventura, administrative assistant at the Edgartown police department, lost her father to suicide 13 years ago. She now organizes the annual Darkness into Light walk to promote suicide awareness and prevention. The walk this year will benefit the work of NAMI Martha’s Vineyard. Ms. Ventura echoed the importance of talking about mental illness and suicide.

“I know the healing that can come from speaking,” she said. “When you lose someone to suicide, you have so many unanswered questions.”

Last year, she joined John Murray to begin the Darkness into Light walk with the aim of destigmatizing mental illness. Participants begin before sunrise, then make their way along the beach as the sky brightens.

“Walking into the daylight symbolizes coming out of the dark of depression,” Ms. Ventura said. “It’s bringing everyone together as a community and healing.”

She said three times as many people wanted to volunteer for the event this year. Ms. Belcastro of NAMI Martha’s Vineyard and Mr. Araujo said they had heard from last year’s participants about how moving the event was.

“I had a veteran that walked last year, and I remember him seeing me in Tony’s Market ... He walked up to me and said to me, ‘just tell me when the suicide prevention walk is, and I’ll be there,’” Mr. Araujo recalled.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback from last year,” Ms. Ventura said. “People who couldn’t talk about losing someone to suicide before, now are able to openly talk about it.”

The Darkness into Vineyard Light suicide prevention and awareness walk begins at 5 a.m. on Saturday Sept. 28 at Bend in the Road Beach. Registration costs $20. High school students can walk for free. Participants are encouraged to park in the Dark Woods parking lot behind Edgartown Pizza and take a shuttle to the starting point. Registration at

Anyone in crisis can contact the Island Intervention Center 24-7 emergency team at 508-693-0032. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.