Mental health on the brain: Recent mental health reform brings more awareness

Plus: Local resources for depression, bipolar disorders, suicide prevention, and more

INCARCERATION, VIOLENCE, HOMELESSNESS, suicide; these are the results of untreated mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, more than 43 million — or 1 in 5 adults — in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. And approximately 10 million Americans suffer a severe mental illness. Despite these numbers, education, awareness, and treatment continues to be lacking. However, a recently passed bill is giving hope to many that people will finally get the care they need.

The House of Representatives recently passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646), which is being called one of the most important mental health bills in decades. The almost unanimous vote (422- 2), signals a change in attitudes, which could have a huge impact on those dealing with some kind of mental illness. “These are physical illnesses,” stresses Mary Joye, M.A., LMHC, P.A., who is a licensed mental health counselor practicing in Lakeland and Winter Haven. “We talk about mental health, but it’s really neuroscience. We are our brains.” The Senate will be voting on a similar bill, the Mental Health Reform Act, S. 2680, which already passed in the Senate Health Committee last March. If approved and signed into law, it could revamp the way mental health care is addressed in our nation. Local treatment groups and facilities have also been weighing in. “It’s a very good bill and it addresses specifically a lot of needs throughout our whole state,” says Doris Nardelli, Director of Communications for the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network; a non-profit serving the SunCoast region and Circuit 10, including Polk County. She adds that the bill gives “more specificity in how those services need to be delivered and in terms of what organizations are required to provide.”

Mental Health of America, a leading advocacy group, recently expressed its support for the bill, citing the transition from addressing as a public safety issue to a public health issue. With lack of resources and funding, many citizens suffering have wound up in jail cells instead of treatment facilities. In fact, in a 2013 study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 15 percent of all state prisoners and 24 percent of jail inmates are psychotic. The bill would install many changes, including:

• A new federal position, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, to run the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which coordinates federal mental health programs.

• A National Mental Health Policy Laboratory to track mental health stats and identify the most effective treatment methods.

• $450 million in funding to states to serve adults and children with serious mental illnesses.

• Updating HIPAA laws (establish privacy rules for personal health information) to allow parents and caregivers access to medical information on their mentally ill child’s health over 18 years of age.

Polk County is not immune from the effects of mental illness. According to the Florida Department of Health, there were 229 suicides in Polk from 2012–2014. The Sunshine State has been par for course with the rest of the nation in allocation of funds and resources for mental health patient care. Services and support are managed by the Mental Health Program Office, in the Department of Children and Families, with a Mental Health Program Office and a Substance Abuse Program Office. The state offices are combined in local Substance Abuse and Mental Health (SAMH) Circuit Program Offices. There are 20 local Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program Offices in Florida.

Mental illness sends over five million people to emergency rooms each year, according to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Many of the mentally ill are uninsured, and that bill gets passed on to tax payers. In 2012, the U.S. spent over $450 million towards care for the mentally ill. But just like any other disease, early detection and treatment is key to getting someone healthy. Joye cites post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, and addiction as the top illnesses affecting the patients she sees.

A recent survey by Mental Health of America found a 1.2 percent increase in youth with depression, and a 1.3 percent increase in youth with severe depression between the years 2010 and 2013. “I think there’s a lot of pressure on young people that wasn’t on the generations before them,” Joye explains. “Social media can depress people because they can see everyone having a wonderful time, and they’re not.” Often Joye writes a prescription for patients to take a break from social media. And while everyone gets the “blues” or what she refers to as adjustment disorder, there are specific symptoms to watch out for.


• Feelings of sadness, hopelessness
• Outbursts of anger, frustration
• Loss of interest in normal activities, hobbies, sports, sex, etc.
• Insomnia or sleeping too much
• Change in appetite, weight gain or loss
• Anxiety, restlessness, agitation
• Slowed thinking, speaking or movement
• Feelings of worthlessness, guilt
• Lack of concentration, memory loss, trouble deciding
• Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
• Unexplained physical problems like back pain or headaches


• Hypomania – High-energy state, euphoria, lots of creativity and energy
• Inability to complete tasks
• Depression
• Irritability
• Rapid Speech
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Erratic behavior
• Feelings of Grandiose
• Trouble sleeping

Unfortunately, many suffering from these illnesses are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Joye points out that health insurance separates coverage into health insurance and behavior insurance. And, many insurance companies don’t accept a lot of mental health providers. Mental health illness and those who suffer from it, have long been saddled with an undeserved stigma. “It’s like telling a diabetic to make their own insulin. If someone’s depressed, they can’t make their own serotonin, or balance their serotonin levels,” Joye elaborates. But with legislation moving through the House and Senate, many are hopeful that help is coming. “Things are changing,” Mary Joye adds. Clinical therapists, doctors, and organizations across Florida are optimistic more residents suffering from mental illness will finally get the care they need.


• BayCare Behavioral Health – Winter Haven Center for Behavioral Health: (863) 294-7062.

• Central Florida Behavioral Health Network: (813) 740-4811

• Florida Department of Health in Polk County: (863) 519-7900

• Lakeland Regional Health, Outpatient Mental Health Services: (863) 687-1222

• PACE (Parent and Adolescent Counseling and Education) Program – School District of Polk County and Winter Haven Center for Behavioral Health: (863) 293-1121, ext. 6525

• Peace River Center: (863) 519-3747



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