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Let’s talk about mental health…

Mental Health

Let’s talk about mental health…

By Pam Gionfriddo, CEO Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County, Inc.

     This is what they are saying in the news and public commentary in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting: the public is demanding the reevaluation of two issues: gun safety and mental health services. Let’s talk about mental health and how you can help…

    There have been 62 mass murders in the US since 1982 and in the aftermath of each, we talk about putting more money into mental health services. But history shows that this mandate has not led to action. Could it be different this time?

    The reality is that — after Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other tragedies—instead of building our mental health care and treatment systems, our federal, state and local governments have consistently placed mental health lower and lower on the priority list for resources. Since Virginia Tech alone in 2007, the states have cut more than $4.6 billion in state-funded behavioral health services. In Florida, we have seen a $12 million cut just since October 2012!

    In Palm Beach County, most of our state-funded programs received 7-9 percent cuts on Oct. 1, 2012. This translated into a $650,000 cut for one of our largest mental health hospitals and similar cuts for other mental health service providers in our county. Our own Peer Place Support Center, which provides support toward recovery for at least 500 people each year with serious mental illnesses, received an 8 percent cut from the state.

    These funding cuts are pervasive and affect nonprofits and helping programs that have already been cut to the bone over the last two decades.

    So let’s talk about mental health and the recent cry for more early detection and treatment services. Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County (MHAPBC) is working with state legislators to pass a bill that would increase our communities’ ability to screen children at an early age and then periodically throughout childhood for early signs of mental illness. We can prevent mental illness from escalating into violence with early recognition and treatment. And MHAPBC is working to institute mental health screening tools into regular health exams.

    MHAPBC is also working with children in schools with our Listen to Children program. Our trained mentors work one-on-one with children who are troubled emotionally or behaviorally.  Each mentor needs a criminal background check that costs $87 each. And yet, the funding for these criminal background checks was also recently cut so we cannot afford to recruit new mentors for children that desperately need them. 

    Just this week we have made resources available for coping with tragedy and have had unprecedented numbers of callers looking for help with depression and anxiety. Our new partnership with the Medical Society to provide free mental health services for those who cannot afford mental health services is trying to plug an enormous hole in the system of care with a small but effective program (Project Access), which relies on the kindness of mental health and other health providers to provide their services on a volunteer basis. Thank you to the many providers that have already volunteered!

    At MHAPBC, we are extremely proud of all our programs and activities to improve mental wellness and prevent tragedies such as Sandy Hook. However, the problem is big and getting bigger. MHAPBC is doing all we can do to help. But we need your help too:

    ·       Please advocate for more funding for mental health and addiction services in our state. We will be sending out policy alerts during the course of the next legislative session. 

    ·       Please volunteer to help a child or adult with mental health problems. We have many volunteer opportunities for anyone in the community that wants to help.

    ·       Go online to learn more about our programs for mental health updates and information, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

    ·       Please donate to MHAPBC to improve our ability to advocate, educate, and reach out to prevent tragedies in the future. Your dollars are so important. We can’t do it without you and no amount is too small and all are tax deductible. Go online to donate or call us at (561) 832-3755.  


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