Unmasking the Epidemic: A Pediatric Mental Health Event

It is no secret that COVID-19 has impacted our community, businesses, nonprofits and families. As a result, the isolation and uncertainty have also led to long-term pediatric mental health implications. To help address the pediatric mental health impacts to area children, Kids’ Minds Matter is hosting a free “Unmasking the Epidemic” virtual event on March 18.



What can I expect at the Unmasking the Epidemic Event?

The Unmasking the Epidemic virtual program officially kicks off at 7 p.m. with emcee Kellie Burns from NBC-2. Virtual doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The pre-show features programs and resources from area mental health agencies and community partners of Kids’ Minds Matter, Golisano Children’s Hospital and Lee Health.

The one-hour free virtual event will highlight the mental health resources available to the community. Local youth who are advocating for enhanced access to mental health care will tell their stories. Experts who are experiencing the need firsthand will discuss what they are seeing.

As a result, this event provides hope for thousands of children who need access to mental health care in our area.

The keynote speaker for the event is Brad Hunstable, founder of Hayden’s Corner. The world lost Hayden Hunstable to suicide on April 17, 2020, just four days before his 13th birthday. Hayden did not struggle with depression nor did he have a history of mental health problems. But he did struggle with the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.

Participants will be able to ask questions during the event. Also, information will be available about how to support Kids’ Minds Matter during the event and after. Interested donors can support the efforts through text-to-give, using an online donation form or by calling.


Improvements to Pediatric Mental Health

The goal of Kids’ Minds Matter, Golisano Children’s Hospital and Lee Health is to expand the availability of mental health programs and services for area youth and their families. Mental and behavioral health disorders impact an estimated 46,000 Southwest Florida children.

Issues include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Each of those conditions have been exacerbated by the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.


Hope for the Area’s Pediatric Mental Health

While 2020 was a difficult year, hope is on the horizon:

Lee and Collier County schools have Five Mental Health Navigators to help children and their families connect with resources to improve educational outcomes. The wraparound services provided by the Navigators also help parents, so they are also able to help their children. Since launching in March 2020, participating families report their children’s attendance and grade have improved significantly, Improvements include a 15% increase in grades over one quarter, 12% increase in math grade average and 15-55% increase of students with perfect school attendance.

Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Child Advocacy team has been offering parenting workshops and mental health trainings for the community. These trainings include first responders, frontline workers, teachers, human resource officers, college students and more. In 2020, these trainings became virtual. Trainings included more than 500+ mental health first aid trainings, 100+ parent support groups and 1,000+ healthcare workers trained in mental health awareness as a response to the pandemic.

An annual Mental Health Fair has brought together behavioral health organizations to work collaboratively to fill gaps in need. With the lack of funding and availability of resources, including access to qualified providers, collaboration is vital to ensure quality and immediate care for our region.

Normal is Overrated, an annual event put on by high school students, helps inform and educate peers, parents, educators and others about the struggles our youth are facing. The 2020 event, held virtually due to the pandemic, reached youth both in our region as well as 12 additional states.


What is the Future for Pediatric Mental Health Services?

Kids’ Minds Matter is dedicated to fostering partnerships that support existing services. Also, the goal is to identify and fill gaps in the continuum of care. Another goal is innovating new treatments to meet the pediatric mental and behavioral healthcare needs in Southwest Florida.

From progress to promise, 2021 looks exciting. With plans to increase and enhance existing services and programs, we will also:

  • Continue to expand access through the addition of two new satellite clinics
  • Begin work on an autism testing center
  • Develop a much-needed adolescent behavioral health intensive treatment program that will reduce Baker Acts
  • Implement the FGCU Pediatric Behavioral Health Scholars Program to help build the available workforce
  • Advocate for legislative change to reduce workforce shortages and increase reimbursement for care

During 2017, Golisano Children’s Hospital had more than 6,900 pediatric mental health visits. In 2020, those visits surpassed 16,000. However, the need continues to grow. Community philanthropic support is needed to add pediatric mental health personnel, expand availability of services, particularly for underserved portions of Southwest Florida, and grow programs, including education, workforce development and lobbying efforts.