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Mental health issues and addiction worsened by COVID-19

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Lakeview Center considered the “tip of the spear” when it comes to mental health issues in the Pensacola area.

“Lakeview Center has seen a fair amount of the community issues which are national trends on mental health substance abuse issues,” said Dr. David Josephs, the Lakeview’s clinical director. “And are a big part of trying to come up with what is a ‘community response.’”

While they have had some successes, Josephs says a number of challengers remain.

“The challenges are a lack of resources for a lot of people at the very basic level," he said. "Many of the people who need addiction and mental health services are poor people. Of course, it cuts across socio-economical levels."

And as the functions of addiction and/or mental illness begin happening — they’re often coupled with the loss of a job and support — resources that were traditionally there, but now are not. As with other crises, Josephs says the pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems.

“The suicide rates for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have gone up pretty significantly," he said. "The addiction rates — when we talk about rates in the past, we talked about people getting into recovery. Right now, it’s really saving lives. People [are] dying from drug overdoses, particularly opiates.”

Lakeview is a partner with the Mental Health Task Force of Northwest Florida which is spending this year locating mental health issues and working toward solutions. Josephs cautions that any solutions that emerge from the program won’t be “one size fits all." That in and of itself, he adds, should be an eye-opener.

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Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director, Lakeview Center

“We all sit a little bit on different seats on the bus, and so our perspective — when you look out the window — is not always the same,” said Josephs. “Our first responders and our emergency rooms and us in mental health first responding — you see that we have some real challenges.”

The task force is being headed up by state Rep. Michelle Salzman of Pensacola, who says work is underway in Tallahassee to make data sharing less of a chore.

“We think of a three-year pilot program, to create that case management system,” she said. “So if someone calls 2-1-1 because they’re hungry, they’ll say, ‘Hey, do you have an issue with anxiety? Would you like a therapist? Or maybe you need a place to stay.’”

Creating a case management system, she says, will help them keep track of who’s calling, when they called, and what they need.

“That the child is in a home where somebody was arrested for domestic violence and when that person calls, we can offer them support,” Salzman said. “We’re going to submit our plan to the state of Florida and request for them to help fund this pilot plan. That, I think is going to be probably the only true legislation for an overall community-type thing.”

“I shouldn’t say it this way, maybe, but we’re sometimes forgotten in the Panhandle — she is making sure we don’t get forgotten,” said Josephs, who applauds the work being done by Salzman and other members of the local delegation to Tallahassee.

“The lives of the people in this region are critical to her and to Sen. [Doug] Broxson, who has also worked with us,” he said. “I think they are really looking at ways to get some resources. We also have some other funding from the state that we can look at how we can bring to this.”

At this point, the task force has not reached out to the local congressional delegation — at least not deliberately, according to Josephs. But that doesn’t mean Uncle Sam’s not chipping in.

“With the CARES money, the COVID money, and thanks to the leadership of [Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson] and the City Council, we have homeless mental health services, where we’re actually going out into the community and providing mental health services and coordination with Opening Doors — the local homeless coalition.”

More information is available at mentalhealthtaskforce.org.

EARLY SIGNS OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION (Mayo Clinic)

  • Avoiding things they once enjoyed
  • Shakiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightness in the chest and/or rapid breathing
  • Racing thoughts

This is part four in a four-part series about mental health in Northwest Florida.