Proactive Mental Health Programs

Proactive mental health programs that work to get ahead of mental health issues are critically important.

Kids’ Minds Matter, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida’s initiative to raise awareness and funding to address the need for pediatric mental and behavioral healthcare services in Southwest Florida, has implemented two programs.

Mental health education training, such as Mental Health First Aid, is an evidence-based public education and prevention tool that improves the public’s knowledge of mental health and substance use problems and helps connect people with resources.

Youth Mental Health First Aid teaches tools to identify when an adolescent might be struggling with a mental health challenge. It is recommended for anyone working or volunteering with youth between the ages of 10-18. This includes teachers, coaches, medical staff, church youth advisors, sport club staff, camp counselors, and more. Adult Mental Health First Aid is designed for caregivers, Fire/EMS and higher education.

In addition, child advocates offer multiple presentations for parents and caregivers. These include Dignified Discipline, Identifying Behavioral Disorders for Younger Children, Trauma-Informed Care, and Understanding Mental Health and Mental Illness.

From Oct. 2020-Sept. 2021, Mental Health Awareness presentations were provided to:

  • More than 1,000 Lee Health leaders
  • 20 at Florida SouthWestern State College
  • 181 for Mental Health First Aid (youth and adult)
  • 35 at community discipline parenting workshops
  • 20 at adoptive parents’ support group
  • 8 at parenting education sessions
  • 46 at special needs curriculum and typical development sessions.

Proactive Mental Health: Mental Health Navigators

Another program, Mental Health Navigators (MHN), is designed to help families connect with services and resources to improve the educational outcomes of their children who may have or may develop mental health challenges. Kid’s Minds Matter funded a pilot program to hire four in-school MHN in Lee and Collier County school systems. Navigators have had experience with mental health issues with a family member or child. As a result, they may have already navigated bureaucratic obstacles.

The MHN program strives for families to learn how to self-advocate. The idea is in time, they can rely on their own resources without the program’s help.

READ MORE: JL’s Story

Since receiving the first referral in January 2020, the navigators have served 104 families. The program has helped with:

  • Psychiatric and therapy appointments for children and parents, as well as diagnostic testing
  • Accompanying parents/child to appointments as needed
  • Enrolling for SNAP (food); TANF (temporary cash assistance); and SSI (income for the disabled)
  • Payment of monthly cell phone bills for a limited time (a safety measure from isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic)
  • Donation of beds for children sleeping on makeshift floor beds
  • Enrolling children in a summer camp, which also served as respite for their parents
  • Assisting parents to electronically enroll their children for the new school year
  • Using wrap-around funds for basic needs such as food, toiletries and clothes.

On average, MHN are seeing academic improvement in children in the program by two letter grades. Also, attendance improves by 50%, with significantly improved behaviors in school.

READ MORE: Mental Health Mondays: Navigating Mental Health in SWFL Schools

In addition, a MHN has been located at Golisano Children’s Hospital. This navigator will provide services to the neediest children who come into the hospital under the Baker Act.