With the Coronavirus spreading through our communities unabated, the prospect of another prolonged lockdown looms larger with every passing day. Already, we have seen the mental health impacts of the first Coronavirus shutdown reflected in higher rates of domestic violence, depression, and suicide. Moments like this are precisely when our community would benefit from a robust, fully funded Psychological Services Division, which is responsible for providing professional psychological services to disadvantaged populations in Miami-Dade County. Instead, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners’ slashed funding to our Psychological Services Division from an already-paltry $293,000 in 2019 to just $171,000 in 2020, a roughly 41% decrease.
Miami-Dade County’s mental health epidemic has gone neglected for years, and today, we are paying the price for it. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic upended our world, 9% of Miami-Dade County residents reported experiencing severe mental illnesses, the highest figure in any urban community in the United States of America. As if that were not bad enough, the fact that an estimated 50,000 children suffer from severe mental illness only adds insult to injury. Rather than investing in our County’s mental health infrastructure to service the needs of our people, we have relied on the Miami-Dade County Corrections Department to provide these services, making it the largest provider of psychiatric care in the entire State of Florida.
We do not have to accept this, things do not have to stay the same.
For over a year now, I have been speaking out about Miami-Dade County’s mental health epidemic. For me, the issue is personal.
My middle brother, Pedro, struggled with mental illness his entire adult life until his passing two years ago. As a child, I remember watching my parents describe, in their broken English, the same list of symptoms, medications, background, and medical history to what felt like an endless number of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, judges and police officers.
When my parents grew too old to care for Pedro, the responsibility became mine.
I share the pain and frustration of so many in our community who are watching their loved ones suffer in agony, and perhaps even suffering themselves. I share these pains and frustrations because I have experienced them myself.
The time for action on this issue passed long ago, Miami-Dade County must rise to the occasion and meet this challenge. This effort must begin with funding increases for our County’s Community Action and Public Services Department and reforms to our Judicial Intervention Process so that individuals admitted to psychiatric care facilities under the Baker Act can receive more than just 72 hours of care in severe cases. Next, we must provide greater support to our Crisis Intervention Units and make it easier for social workers to access patient records so that we can do a better job supporting the families of those afflicted. Just as importantly, we must establish mental healthcare insurance parity for County employees by providing the same benefits for mental healthcare as we do for other forms of care.
Finally, our frontline medical workers and first responders have endured immensely difficult conditions for months now, and while it is not in their nature to ask for help, we have an obligation to give them expanded access to treatment as well. While we will never be able to fully repay the nurses, doctors, firefighters, police officers, and social workers who have so selflessly served this community, the least we can do is build a support system around them that lets them know that we have their backs.
Nobody should have to suffer from mental illness in silence. Together, we can ensure that nobody does.