Collier County’s mental health court

Reporter: Amanda Hall Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Judge Joseph Foster of Collier County’s mental health court. Credit: WINK News

To avoid people with mental illness going in and out of jail without their real problems being addressed, Collier County has a specialty court dedicated to the issue.

In the case of Aaron Serbu, the court kept him out of jail, got him off the streets and likely saved his life, a life with its share of peaks and deep valleys.

“I’m bipolar,” Serbu said. “I suffered a while, you know. 2011, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15. Those were my lost years.”

Serbu’s arrest history is extensive, and he spent a lot of time homeless with an untreated mental illness.

“I was against medication back then,” Serbu said. “You’re flushed with anxiety. You’re flushed with different types of agony. Seems there’s no hope. You think there’s no trust in other people, all at once.”

Collier County’s mental health court helps people like Serbu who face criminal charges by offering them probation, mandating strict compliance to a highly structured program and total sobriety. They’re given a chance.

“The program lasts a year on average,” said Judge Joseph Foster of the mental health court. “In that time, the person is set up for treatment.”

If successful, charges can be reduced or dropped altogether. For Serbu, the court’s probation was an opportunity to get his life back on track.

“I enjoy just living a simple life, and from what I’ve been through after Hurricane Irma, or in the streets, having a house is, like, golden, you know?” Serbu said. “I’m so excited and glad.”

Referrals to mental health court can come from anyone: the judge, attorneys, even the officer making the arrest. Florida currently has 33 mental health courts in operation.

If you are struggling or if you know a loved one who is in trouble, there is help and you are not alone. There is free and immediate support available 24/7. Below is a list of important resources:

In An Emergency

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger call 911. It is important to notify the operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for an officer trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)

Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.

National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)

Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

Below are mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local level.

David Lawrence Center (Collier County)

SalusCare (Lee County)

(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier County

(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry Counties

The National Alliance for Caregiving offers a free handbook
Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers

Collier County Mental Health Court

Lee County Mental Health Court

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Local Support Groups: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help)

Local veterans resource: Home Base SWFL

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