Mental health experts stress the importance of childhood mental health counseling

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

The Texas school shooting is taking a toll on students in Southwest Florida, and across the country. Mental health experts are stressing the importance of counseling.

The mental pain is especially prevalent for the survivors in Uvalde, Texas who will have to live with these memories for the rest of their lives. A moment like that can really affect a child.

Two counselors said treatment is critical because if kids do not get counseling right away, their odds of developing mental health issues become far more likely. They said untreated mental illness can result in substance abuse and suicide.

Doctors and nurses at Golisano Children’s Hospital care for children and others they send to a mental health center for treatment under the Baker Act.

“We have seen a 221% increase in children coming into our hospital under the Baker Act from 2019 to 2021,” said Alyssa Bostwick, the chief nursing and operations executive at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Bostwick said that about the mental health crisis in Southwest Florida last week. Days later, the devastating shooting in Texas left 19 children dead.

Two mental health experts explained the impact here in Southwest Florida, nearly 1,400 miles away.

“When something like this happens, it’s, you know, it basically-re traumatizes them,” said Caryn Depasquale, a registered mental health counselor intern at Sunshine State Counseling.

“Something like this will increase anxiety. We know it folks don’t feel safe. They don’t understand why this happens. Who to trust,” said Nancy Dauphinais, chief operating officer and licensed mental health counselor with the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health.

The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop PTSD. About a third develop acute stress disorder.

Add that to what children dealt with during the pandemic, and life in general, and it results in kids who need help, but may not be getting it.

“They’re already feeling the trauma of their parents splitting up or their parents fighting over them. And then you throw something like this, in which they feel like they have no control over,” said Depasquale.

“Just highlights how important it is that we continue to invest in support our mental health system,” said Dauphinais.

It’s like adding an epidemic to the pandemic.

The results of the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey for middle school students found that 4,724 middle school students said they were bullied during the year before the survey. More than 1,000 of them were just 12-years-old.

Mental health resources in Southwest Florida

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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