© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.

As children's mental health issues rise, a new Florida clinic offers free service

Ulrike Mai

A mental health service is expanding its operations to Polk and other Central Florida counties to address the growing concern of mental health crises in children.

A Central Florida mental health clinic is expanding its services to uninsured children free of charge.

The Mental Health Association of Central Florida is expanding its services to Polk, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard and Lake counties to meet the crisis needs of ages 6 to 17.

"We have seen during and post-pandemic the impact of children and adolescents coming to our area hospitals and emergency departments with a myriad of issues," said Marni Stahlman president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.

"From self-harming behaviors, and suicidal patients to significant anxiety and depressive episodes that have underscored what we as adults have seen for ourselves, how the isolation and the changes in the conditions of how we were living, have negatively affected our own mental health and well-being."

A rising mental health crisis

Stahlman says the association community partners identified a 15% to 20% increase in mental health crisis episodes among young people over the past three years in Central Florida.

In October, the clinic provided free mental health services to a handful of adolescents as part of a pilot program at the Rock Lake Community Center in Orlando. Stahlman said the association was asked to start the program after numerous reports from Rock Lake Elementary School of children affected by gun violence in their families as well as domestic violence.

"We took that period of time to pilot best practices. We wanted to operate the incorporation of care management, expressive arts, therapy, and also guardian and parent education and advocacy support," she said.

The school reported positive results in the children after the start of the program.

"That pilot was really an indicator for us that we were definitely on the right track," she said.

Still, the region as a whole lacks mental health services. According to county data, 60% of Orange County's residents reported not having adequate access to mental health services.

"That is even doubly so when we talk about people who don't have access to health insurance to help offset those costs," she said.

Hence why the program is free for the uninsured.

Additionally, the clinic won't charge families wishing to seek therapy services together, Stahlman said.

"When these children and adolescents come forward, they're not in isolation. They're in a family. They're in a continuum, and you have to provide support across the board to all of the individuals. Much like a mobile, there's one part that moves, but it all moves together," she said.

Setting up an appointment

After setting up an appointment, children will first be screened, and then an individual treatment plan will be created surrounding the child's needs, which may include one-on-one therapy, medication management, expressive arts therapy and group education,

The service is at the Outlook Clinic, 901 W. Church St., Orlando, just two blocks west of Exploria Stadium. The clinic also accepts telehealth appointments for those unable to drive to the location; call: (407) 898-0110 Ext. 2, or click here for the website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing feelings of hopelessness, apathy or suicidal thoughts, call or text 988. The service is available in Spanish and English.

Copyright 2024 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Joe Mario Pedersen