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COVID-19 mental health crisis: How Northeast Florida providers plan to keep up with growing need for help

If you or someone you know needs immediate crisis assistance from a clinician, LSF Health Systems operates a 24-hour care line. The number is 1-877-229-9098.

DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. — America is facing a mental health crisis. It’s not an exaggeration, it’s a data-driven fact.

A new CDC survey done during the coronavirus pandemic shows overall depression, serious consideration of suicide and increased use of substance abuse are about three times the rate that researchers found in the last quarter of 2019. Three times higher.

These trends are closely in line with the COVID-19 mental health crisis that’s happening right here in Northeast Florida, which is why one organization is stepping up to help the growing need for care.

Lutheran Services of Florida Health Systems is reporting a 40% increase of people experiencing depression and a 30% rise in suicides in the 23 counties it serves statewide.

Plus, there's a 62% surge in overdose deaths in Duval County.

"It is a very serious situation. Our brains are not meant to absorb this continual chronic stress that all of us have been experiencing with this pandemic -- and then you add on the social unrest, the racial inequality, hurricane season, there are so many stressors out of our control that are constantly plaguing us," LSF Health Systems CEO Dr. Christine Cauffield explained. "With no relief in sight, it's almost like the tipping point for individuals.”

However, LSF health systems was just awarded a SAMHSA COVID-19 Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention Grant, which will help it better serve this growing number of people needing mental health care.

Over the next 16 months, Cauffield said the $800,000 will go toward partnerships with local providers -- like Baptist Health and Hubbard House -- to screen 1,200 more at-risk individuals for suicide.

“And then we're going to wrap our arms around those individuals with care coordination, to ensure that they are staying on track, they're getting the help the medication, whatever their treatment issues are," she explained. "We're also going to be going in and training health care professionals in emergency rooms and homeless shelters -- to let them know about signs and symptoms of suicide, and how they can best intervene and get folks help when they need it.”

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Lutheran Service of Florida Health Systems also operates a 24-hour care line. The number is 1-877-229-9098.

Other National Suicide Prevention Month resources can be found here.

Cauffield also offers these tips on “minding your mental health”:

  1. Reduce your exposure to news. It is important to stay informed, but in small doses. Do not bombard yourself with stressful information.
  2. Factor in joy every day. With additional stress, it is important to balance it out with things that bring you pleasure -- whether that's an activity like gardening or just taking a bubble bath.
  3. Exercise and go outside daily. Burn off some of that stress and get those endorphins flowing. Dr. Cauffield said studies show being outside for just 10 minutes a day greatly increases endorphins in our brains.
  4. Connect, connect, connect. Touching base with family and friends over the phone or Zoom is more important than ever. Your loved ones can offer some of the best support as we're moving through this challenging time.