DECEMBER 15, ORLANDO – While the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted everyone’s collective mental health over the past 19 months, it has had particularly devastating effects on children and young adults according to a new government report released last week by the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D.
This new advisory cites research suggesting one in four young people globally have experienced depressive symptoms during the pandemic, and one in five have experienced anxiety symptoms. It points out that suspected suicide attempts rose dramatically among teenage girls and slightly among teenage boys in early 2021, compared to early 2019. Sadly, the number of young people struggling with their mental health had already increased exponentially in the years preceding the pandemic. According to the advisory, the number of high school students experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” and the number of them considering suicide rose significantly between 2009 and 2019.
In response, the Mental Health Association of Central Florida (MHACF), through a grant from the Orange County Government, will launch two new digital PSAs across multiple social media platforms, as a part of its already well-regarded suicide prevention initiative “You Are A Lifeguard” (www.youarealifeguard.org), begun in July 2021. This extension of the campaign will urge Central Florida parents to take the pledge to become a “Lifeguard” for their own children and actively engage in dialogues to address growing mental health issues in their family. By asking parents to take this pledge to become a “Lifeguard”, the MHACF’s goal is to have parents commit to joining the growing coalition in Central Florida and beyond to take an active role in suicide prevention. Parents being present to provide support and resources to get the help their children need is so important.
“You are a Lifeguard was created as a community-based suicide prevention approach targeted specifically to youth and young adults. By educating our community, we can build and support an active network of individuals and families who are educated on the signs of someone in need and how to get them help. With that being said, education is only half the battle,” said Marni Stahlman, President & CEO of MHACF. “We are encouraging parents specifically to use what they can learn through the initiative to help their own children who are suffering. This can be something as simple as talking with your daughter or son and about their fears and anxieties, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and honestly sharing your own. The taboo over talking about suicidal feelings and thoughts needs to be overcome. Our mission is to encourage everyone in our community to help those in need by becoming a Lifeguard rather than a bystander when they see someone struggling with mental illness and to empower individuals in need to become their own lifeguard by seeking help.”
“You are a Lifeguard” is the MHACF’s investment to build mental health awareness and provide much needed services and support to Central Florida’s community. It joins programs such as the Outlook Clinic, the only free and charitable clinic in Central Florida providing psychiatric treatment to the uninsured, which has provided 969 psychiatric visits in just the past year and Connections, a free mental health information and referral resource, that connected 2,100 people with mental health resources this year alone.
“With all of these new stress factors brought on by COVID-19, added on to the regular difficulties that come with navigating the challenges of growing up, we view You are a Lifeguard as an essential community resource to support those who need it most. In the past, students have had teachers, coaches and even their peers at their schools and in public to help watch over them and provide support. But now, with the increased isolation of the pandemic, it becomes much harder. That is why it is so important for us to have “Lifeguards” all around so that we can elevate these critical issues of youth mental health on the public policy agenda and that every one of us embraces the roles we can play.”
MHACF is pleased to have partnered with the Central Florida Foundation, Orange County Government, and HIFIVE advertising agency to make this initiative possible and hope you will take the pledge today to help prevent youth and young adult suicide at www.YouAreALifeguard.org.
The Mental Health Association of Central Florida
Established in 1946, the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, Inc. (MHACF) is one of the oldest nonprofits in Central Florida and is the leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. The Mental Health Association of Central Florida understands that violence, racism, hate, and discrimination undermine mental wellness and are significant contributors to individual and community trauma. Therefore, we are committed to breaking cycles of multi-generational distress for marginalized communities in all that we do by pledging to work against racism, bias, prejudice and discrimination at individual, interpersonal and institutional levels.
For more information about MHACF resources, please contact us at (407) 898-0110 or visit www.MHACF.org.