Pandemic revealing gaps in Florida’s mental health resources

Suicide-related calls spike among teens during pandemic

Suicide-related calls spike among teens during pandemic

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s child abuse hotlines saw a sharp drop off in calls while schools were closed due to the pandemic, but mental health calls increased.

Florida’s First Lady and mental health experts from around the state are looking at ways to address the mental health problem, especially in areas with poor access to services.

While schools were closed, 20,000 fewer calls came in to Florida’s child abuse hotline, but Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis said that’s not because fewer children were suffering.

“Those are 20,000 less lives that are potential victims of child abuse that do not have the opportunity to be able to seek help,” said DeSantis.

And while fewer were able to report abuse, more reported mental health issues.

One crisis center alone reported a 36% increase in suicide-related calls among 13- to 18-year-olds.

“What do kids need? They need predictability, they need stability, they need transparency, and during COVID-19 they’ve had none of that,” said Clara Reynolds, CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

Since school started, more cases of abuse are being reported. Calls are up 27%.

But access to mental health services for children, especially in rural districts, is limited.

“And so if we don’t figure out creative ways of being able to provide that level of service, we know depths of despair will increase,” said Reynolds.

To help expand access, DeSantis announced $2 million in CARES Act funding will go to bolster telehealth services in 18 rural school districts.

“It really broadens the access and lets folks get that immediate care that they need,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, president of the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The Legislature included $100 million for school mental health in this year’s budget.

Mental health experts said similar or even increased funding may be necessary for the coming year to respond to the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

As of July, the CDC found 40% of adults were struggling with mental health or substance abuse.

If you are struggling, please call the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255 or dial 211 to be connected with a local mental health care provider.