By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Hillsborough County school and government officials have taken steps to recognize May as National Mental Health Awareness Month, an especially pressing topic, given the lockdowns, losses, slow-downs and vaccine and protocol anxieties that have marked the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
School board officials at their May 18 meeting were set to adopt a proclamation for National Mental Health Awareness Month. It notes the “need for comprehensive, coordinated mental health services and supports.” Left untreated, the “mental health issues in children and youth can lead to lifelong challenges for children, their families and the community.”
According to County officials, the COVID-19 outbreak has increased calls to the nonprofit Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Through its partnership with Hillsborough County, center specialists are on call day and night, seven days a week, to provide immediate emotional support and connections to more than 3,000 community resources and services. The center can be reached online at www.211.org or by calling 2-1-1.
Moreover, the nonprofit West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition, formed in 2019 to help people with mental health issues and addictions, has reported an uptick in inquiries during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to County officials. The nonprofit is comprised of 30 hospitals, government and law enforcement agencies, health-care groups, schools, businesses and others interested in mental health issues in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties. The coalition’s aim, as well, is for “members with mental health experience in specific areas to get a collective, big-picture view” as post-pandemic life emerges.
“Coming out the other side will be the big challenge,” said Carrie Zeisse, coalition president and CEO, according to the County report. Coalition members are in line for an upsurge in inquiries “as people assess their circumstances as a result of the coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, Mental Health America (MHA) since 1949 has observed Mental Health Month in May, promoting as well “Advocacy Mondays” to ensure action steps are taken every month in May.
Recognizing that “stress, tension and anxiety have multiplied in all aspects of our lives since the start of the pandemic,” Hillsborough County officials launched the “Mindful Monday” initiative to provide interactive resources round-the-clock to help people, regardless of busy schedules, set mental health as a top priority. The Mindful Monday Mental Health Resources Hub is available via search at www.HCFLGov.net.
“When we think about cancer, heart disease or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them,” notes the MHA, in addressing mental health vigilance. “So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with mental health concerns?”
In the wake of the coronavirus health crisis, those concerns are rising. According to the MHA web site, “the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as essential to address as are the physical health effects.”
Moreover, “for the one in five who already have mental health conditions, or the one in two who are at risk of developing them, we need to take personal, professional and policy measures now to address them.”
In this regard, in materials for the May 18 board meeting, school officials said they partner with community agencies and private organizations to address community-wide mental health concerns and to provide professional development and family support, including student support referrals.
The school district’s web site links to resources and referrals compiled by the Healthy Start Coalition of Hillsborough County. (Visit www.sdhck12.fl.us and search for “Resources for Families During COVID-19.” Visit the coalition at www.healthystartcoalition.org/.)
At Hillsborough County Aging Services, officials provide twice weekly virtual wellness sessions to boost mental and physical engagement among seniors. Broken into segments, the hour-long sessions focus on such things as tips for healthy eating and exercising and the importance of mental and emotional stimulation through laughter, meditation and communication. Virtual sessions are held Tuesday and Thursday from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. (in English) and from 1 to 2 p.m. (in Spanish). Call: 1-888-585-9008. (After hearing a voice recording, dial the conference room number: 784-132-094#.)
Mental Health America, online at www.mhanational.org, offers COVID-19 specific resources, including blogs that address a wide range of topics, including grief and grieving children, screening data, mental health challenges, managing worker burnout, frontline worker challenges and caring for patients in the COVID-19 era.
Webinar topics include processing grief and loss, the rise of alcohol use during the pandemic, how to help family members through COVID-19 transitions, the impact of COVID-19 on children, online therapy, telehealth and tips to decrease coronavirus anxiety and improve emotional well-being.
Also at MHA online are a report on the state of mental health in America, mental health screening tools, resources for care giving and parenting and frontline workers, and wellness and coping skills.
For additional support, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 daily. Call: 1-800-273-8255. To use the Crisis Text Line, text “MHA” to 741741. Operating daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., call the Caregiver Help Desk at 855-227-3640.