Mental health is a global issue on the rise; yet, it seems that an unfortunate stigma remains. Those impacted by mental health often feel a sense of shame and/or discrimination, even though mental health challenges are fairly common. According to mental health.gov, operated by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, data collected in 2014 found that about 1-in-5 American adults experienced a mental health issue; 1-in-10 young people experienced a period of major depression; and 1-in-25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
Managing a mental health issue can be challenging ─ similarly to dealing with other ailments ─ but, unlike other conditions, people tend to struggle more so with knowing where to seek care. That’s what makes organizations like the Mental Health Association of Central Florida (MHACF) so important. MHACF is affiliated with the national Mental Health America network though, since 1946, this privately-run nonprofit has facilitated initiatives geared to meet the specific needs of its local community with education, advocacy and outreach. It serves about 10,000 people annually through various programs and support groups.
“People often come to us when they don’t know where to start or have been looking for help and are frustrated,” says Charlotte Melton, Vice President of MHACF, adding, “We also connect with the families of people who have been discharged from a Baker Act to help them find discharge services.
The local receiving centers include our Mental Health Connections Program on their discharge paperwork as a resource.” Melton describes Mental Health Connections as a free information and referral service that takes the leg work out of treatment navigation. “A call to our office or a click on our website connects you to the program where we ask a few questions about your situation, your coverage (or lack thereof), transportation limitations and preferences to begin the process,” she says. MHACF then matches a requestor’s needs with appropriate resources and providers. “It can be so hard to get to the point of wanting and accepting help that the rejection and frustration of finding it can make many quit before they get the support they deserve,” Melton offers.
In partnership with Florida Hospital and other collaborators, MHACF’s Outlook Clinic has successfully offered treatment to those diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and a co-occurring medical diagnosis. Currently, the service caters to those 18+ years living in Orange County who are uninsured. Since its inception in 2010, the Outlook Clinic has served 1,400 residents. MHACF also offers: Reflections, a program inclusive of Provides Arrows, a suicide-affected support group, a suicidal ideation support group and People Inc., a peer-facilitated mental health support group; Guardian Advocate, a volunteer effort coordinating temporary guardianship of those who are Baker Acted in an effort to advocate for the best inpatient care; and Orlando United Counseling and Outreach, established just days after the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub to provide recovery services.
Actress Glenn Close, founder of the mental health nonprofit Bring Change to Mind, donated funds to launch Orlando United Counseling and Outreach. “What we learned after 9/11 is that the effects of trauma from an event like that can last up to eight years and can take several years to surface,” says Melton, adding, “We have extended the program to include community education of the ongoing and physical effect trauma can have.” Through Orlando United Counseling and Outreach, MHACF has executed recovery workshops for police forces, first responders, city/county personnel and other community members, in addition to other efforts. Within the past two years, 120 clients have accessed this free program.
Close isn’t the only celebrity championing mental health awareness. In May 2018, actress Brooke Shields, who’s been vocal about her battle with postpartum depression, gave the keynote address at MHACF’s Legacy of Champions Luncheon, an annual fundraiser attended by 600 community members. “It is so valuable to have someone we idolize share candid experiences with that struggle. She has all the access to support someone could ask for and, yet, she was just as lost as any one of us would have been. She reminded the room that needing help doesn’t make you weak! The effort to ask for help shows strength,” Melton proclaims.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to impact awareness and change. The state of Florida, sadly, ranks last in the nation for funding mental health treatment. “In Florida, we allocate $14 per person in mental health funding. That funding is quickly used up by deep end services for clients who could have been supported by the Medicaid Expansion that Florida didn’t do, leaving the rest of the population without state support,” says Melton. MHACF encourages residents to participate in Elect Health Florida (#ElectHealthFL), a campaign informing legislators about constituents’ desires pertaining to improved access to medical and mental health services. You can easily send an email to your legislator through MHACF’s online template.
For assistance in the Orlando area, contact MHACF at (407) 898-0110 or mhacf.org. For general information on mental health or to locate treatment services nationwide, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or samhsa.gov. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is manned by trained crisis workers available to talk confidentially 24/7. Currently, all MHACF’s programs are free of charge and the organization’s tagline is a powerful reminder: “It’s Okay to Get Help!” That’s true for both the person facing mental health hurdles and concerned loved ones.