Transforming Youth Mental Health Care Now and Forever

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Gulf Coast: Sara Miller, navigator.

We know one of the most important issues in our nation today is mental health care for our youth. Untreated mental illness in children and young adults can devastate individuals and destroy their families. According to the World Health Organization, globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder. The State of Mental Health in America shows a growing percentage of youth in the U.S. live with major depression. Even more, 15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, a 1.24% increase from last year. That’s why at Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we are doing everything in our capacity to improve the mental health system of care for our region’s youth and adolescents. 

Through the Here4YOUth Initiative of Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, a collaborative consortium of human service organizations lead a unified system of care for children and families. In fact, the Here4YOUth Initiate launched a Family Peer Navigator position at NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties, to assist families in Sarasota County with children under the age of 25 who are experiencing mental health challenges. The navigator’s role is to assist families in navigating systems, connect families to community resources, and create opportunities for skill-building to support resilience and recovery. The role has been successful in helping families with children with mental health challenges navigate our system of care, strengthened families, and created a local YOUTH MOVE Chapter for young adults to connect with one another. Sarah Miller, the Family Navigator, is highly-trained and revered as an expert statewide.

One success story from NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties on the Family Peer Navigator experience details how a single mother, her elderly mother, and 11-year-old child were in need of help. The child benefited greatly from the connections and a relationship developed between herself and the youth peer specialist. The child’s hospitalizations reduced dramatically from every month (or every other month) to now nearing a year of no hospitalizations as the child has begun to demonstrate stabilization and the mother has begun to feel empowered.  This mother has not only successfully grown, but now is an incredible resource and leader for NAMI family programs and demonstrated an interest in supporting family navigation for other families. Stories like these show the magnitude and importance of peer-to-peer support for our youth.

Summertime can also be tough for youth, as they lack structure from school. This summer, we hope families will support the CDC’s Healthy Schools tips that include handling stress well through physical activity and healthy thinking; relating to others by encouraging social interactions and emotional awareness; and making healthy choices about how they eat and play. Things like learning a new dance move or playing games that encourage movement for your child are suggested. Nutrition and emotional well-being are also covered topics, including eating fruits and vegetables with each meal, giving your child a new responsibility that fits their age, reducing time watching a screen and more. 

At Gulf Coast, we are taking action to improve the region’s mental health care system for youth and young adults every day. We want to thank the Sarasota County Commission for establishing a “mental health funding district” that will need future support. With tangible action and community-wide support, we continue to push our momentum forward. We will not give up the fight for youth who need this critical support.

 

Mark Pritchett is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Photo courtesy Gulf Coast: Sara Miller, navigator.

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