Transforming youth mental health care now and forever


Guest correspondence

Gulf Coast courtesy photo: Sara Miller, navigator.

We know that one of the biggest issues in our country today is mental health care for our young people. Untreated mental illness in children and young adults can devastate individuals and destroy their families. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, one in seven young people aged 10 to 19 suffer from a mental disorder. The State of Mental Health in America shows that a growing percentage of young people in the United States are living with major depression. In addition, 15.08% of young people experienced a major depressive episode in the last year, an increase of 1.24% compared to last year. That’s why, at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we do everything in our power to improve the mental health care system for youth and adolescents in our region.

Through the Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Here4YOUth initiative and the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, a collaborative consortium of social service organizations is leading a unified system of care for children and families. In fact, Here4YOUth Initiate has launched a Family Peer Navigator post in NAMI Sarasota and Manatee Counties, to help Sarasota County families with children under 25 who are experiencing mental health issues. The role of the navigator is to help families navigate systems, connect families to community resources, and create skill-building opportunities to support resilience and recovery. The role has been successful in helping families with children with mental health issues navigate our care system, strengthening families and creating a local YOUTH MOVE chapter for young adults to connect with each other. Sarah Miller, the family navigator, is highly skilled and revered as an expert throughout the state.

A success story from NAMI Sarasota and Manatee counties on the Family Peer Navigator experience details how a single mother, her elderly mother and her 11-year-old child needed help. The child has benefited greatly from the connections and relationship established between herself and the young peer specialist. The child’s hospitalizations decreased significantly from every month (or every two months) to almost a year without hospitalization, as the child began to demonstrate stabilization and the mother began to feel empowered. This mother has not only grown up successfully, but is now an incredible resource and leader for NAMI’s family programs and has demonstrated an interest in supporting family navigation for other families. Stories like these show the breadth and importance of peer support for our young people.

Summer can also be difficult for young people, as they lack a school structure. This summer, we hope families will support the CDC’s guidance on healthy schools, which includes managing stress through physical activity and healthy thinking; build relationships with others by encouraging social interaction and emotional awareness; and make 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, including eating fruits and vegetables at every meal, giving your child a new age-appropriate responsibility, reducing screen time and more.

At Gulf Coast, we take steps to improve the region’s mental health care system for youth and young adults every day. We would like to thank the Sarasota County Commission for creating a “mental health funding district” that will need future support. With concrete actions and community-wide support, we continue to build momentum. We will not give up the fight for young people who need this essential support.

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

Gulf Coast courtesy photo: Sara Miller, navigator.


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