In the midst of the global upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, our mental health needs and use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances are increasing. Between March and July 2020, McKinsey & Company conducted national consumer surveys and found “widespread distress, exacerbated even further among those whose jobs have been adversely affected by COVID-19” and reports of lower emotional and social wellness in July than in previous months.1
Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation launched the Here4YOUth Mental Health Initiative in 2018, with the goal of improving behavioral healthcare in Sarasota County, particularly for youth. The initiative was designed in response to the local school district, law enforcement, families, and nonprofits identifying mental health needs as the key issue impacting our community. The stakes are growing higher each day, as systems that were already unable to keep up with demand see escalating needs. Simply returning to the pre-pandemic status quo will not provide the opportunities for emotional and social wellness that youth need to thrive.
Community participation is central to this initiative and we gathered input from over 50 partner agencies, stakeholders, and service users through more than 75 meetings to draft a plan for improvement and begin to implement changes. Diverse work groups identified some immediate next steps and these are underway:
- An independent Financial Analysis of current public funding and the ideal future state
- Advocating for a dedicated public funding source and developing an interagency governance structure
- Providing care navigation for families, particularly for youth with complex needs
- Jed Foundation’s Seize the Awkward campaign to eliminate stigma for seeking care
- Shining A Spotlight on programs that empower youth and are working well, nominated by the community
- Piloting a Teen Mental Health First Aid Peer to Peer Program in two high schools
- Convening pediatricians and behavioral health providers to identify ways to integrate care
- Angst documentary aired followed by a local youth and adult expert panel
- Here4YOUth Facebook group to share resources and encouragement with over 700 members
A Mental Health Project Fund at Gulf Coast, seeded by the Barancik Foundation is attracting philanthropic investment in this effort. Here4YOUth aims to improve the capacity, structure, and effectiveness of the behavioral health system and thanks to many community stakeholders, positive progress is underway.
1. McKinsey & Company. Returning to resilience: The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and substance use. 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-...