Future Ready Collier regularly brings together community representatives to ensure the network is aware of the most pressing regional needs. A theme throughout this last 12-month period, since the earliest onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the threat to Southwest Floridians’ mental health. Stakeholders agree this is an urgent priority.
Various markers indicate that students may be struggling. The Collier County Public School District observed an increase in the number of students with failing grades. School administrators, counselors, and teachers all hope that having more students back in classrooms will help. In addition, success plans are developed for those students who are especially behind, and pandemic-related government funding goes to supplemental programming. While last year’s high school graduation rate was high, at 92.2%, the Collier County district is aware that migrant and at-risk students are not meeting state averages. Efforts collectively go towards Collier County students of all ages, to keep them on track, engaged, and emotionally supported.
Healthcare providers are concerned by the number of people of all ages exhibiting new or increased symptoms of mental health distress. At the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health, their children’s crisis center has mostly been at capacity in recent months, and outpatient day treatment use has gone up, though there is always someone available to help. There are many variables impacting children, including reduced socialization with their friends, and increased stress at home due to parental job loss, illness, and generalized uncertainty.
Those experiences are echoed by providers from Healthcare Network. A surge in anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, again seen throughout age groups, is cause for serious worry. A mostly virtual world has also diminished opportunities for kids to receive important developmental screenings. Healthcare Network’s integrated model of care, which joins behavioral with physical health assessment, is beneficial for identifying those who are more in need of assistance.
Collier County benefits from strong partnerships among educators, health providers, and law enforcement and public safety. The Safe & Healthy Children’s Coalition, run through the NCH Healthcare System, promotes and monitors children’s water safety, sleep safety, health and nutrition, and other factors. Local stakeholders work closely with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, which supports young people through programs and designated Youth Relations Deputies who are placed in schools as resources. Sheriff’s Office representatives note that, across the county, mental health-related calls, including overdoses, are up.
These are significant challenges and not likely to be resolved soon, as the pandemic itself lingers, and more prolonged effects are certain to follow. However, those providing day-to-day, on-the-ground support are encouraged by the cooperation, and services and programs in place. Dr. Jorge Camina, a pediatrician with Healthcare Network, shared the observation that, “every day we become aware of more problems, but also more solutions.”
Key Mental Health Resources
There are plenty of resources for families to take advantage of. Collier County Public Schools keep a page on their website devoted to mental health. Anyone needing behavioral health treatment or in the midst of a behavioral health crisis is encouraged to contact the David Lawrence Centers. Both in-person and virtual care options are available, for those in acute need as well as more long-term help. Healthcare Network also delivers behavioral health services. Additionally, both David Lawrence Centers and Healthcare Network have sliding fee scale options. To see more about what the Safe & Healthy Children’s Coalition does, visit their website.
If COVID-19 has impacted your ability to pay for your rent or mortgage or other home-related or childcare costs, relief may be available through the United Way of Collier and the Keys. Organizations like the United Way and Community Foundation of Collier County are gathering funds to help those struggling to keep up as a result of the pandemic.
A key role Future Ready Collier plays is convening these important conversations, and joining those able to make a difference with those most in need. These resources are available for you, and anyone you know. Please share, because the power of collective impact is available for everyone.
Prepared by Caroline Ridgway of C1B1 Communications