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Pandemic placing strain on Floridians’ mental health

Pandemic revealing gaps in Florida’s mental health resources
Pandemic revealing gaps in Florida’s mental health resources

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida is facing a mental health storm as a result of the pandemic.

The state’s Children and Youth Cabinet was told Wednesday the pandemic has also changed how people are receiving mental health treatment.

This time last year, census data showed one in seven people reported experiencing anxiety or depression. That figure has grown to 25 percent of respondents in the pandemic.

Dr. Thomas Joiner, who runs the psychology clinic at Florida State University, called the statistic a “concerning national increase.”

“The way that we are thinking about this is, that’s a larger mental health storm,” said Joiner.

Fueling the anxiety are isolation and social distancing. Another factor is that there are more than one million new people on the state’s welfare rolls.

FSU has responded by ramping up tele-health sessions.

“Their suicide risks from January to February went down from March to April. We attribute it to on going engagement via tele-health,” Joiner said.

First Lady Casey DeSantis, who chairs the Cabinet, has championed children’s mental health following Hurricane Michael. She said the No. 1 question she gets from parents is how to identify mental health issues.

“How do I know what the warning signs, symptoms are?” DeSantis said.

The answer, according to Joiner, is right in front of the parent.

“What are you thinking?" he said. "Secondly, have you seen departures from what you know to be the status-quo?”

To help spot those with anxiety or depression, Florida State has begun training every faculty and staff member to pick up on changes in behavior.

“From the entire campus, people who don’t specialize in mental health, how to be on the lookout for students who might be in crisis, what are some of the signs and symptoms for them,” Joiner said.

And experts say when the pandemic ends, the explosion in tele-health will remain.