ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County received $1 million from the Heart of Florida United Way, a gift that’s part of a donation made to the nonprofit by author and philanthropist, McKenzie Scott.
“McKenzie Scott made these investments in nonprofits across the country. She made it a point to reach out to nonprofits that are reaching out to communities that are underserved,” said Nancy Alvarez, vice president of community relations and equity for the organization.
Orange County officials said in the past two years, there’s been an uptick in the number of people struggling with mental health issues.
“Since the start of our pandemic, our 211 specialists with our crisis line at Heart of Florida United Way handled about 10,000 suicide calls—10,000! And that’s just people that were speaking up about it. These are people that are right here in our community that are at a breaking point,” Alvarez said.
News 6 reported two weeks ago the results of a study measuring some of the shortcomings of the county’s mental health system, showing a $49.7 million gap in access to mental health resources and services.
“This is a pervasive problem in our community and we need to tackle this,” said Jeff Hayward, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way.
According to the nonprofit, the money will go toward an awareness campaign in Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties via TV, radio, billboards and other platforms.
“We’re gonna introduce three things: One is the stigma campaign. It’s basically an ad campaign to raise awareness about mental wellness in the community and let you know that it’s OK to say you’re not OK,” Alvarez said.
Mental wellness campaigns are also prevalent in the Latino and Hispanic communities, according to the executive director of Hispanic Family Counseling.
“It is a stigma. I think that one of the only good things about the COVID is people are more open to talk about mental illness or anxiety and depression,” said Denise Lamas, executive director for Hispanic Family Counseling. “In the past, we used to see a lot of kids that have behavioral issues in school, but now with the COVID, people are realizing that, ‘Oh my God, this could happen to anybody.’ It doesn’t discriminate.”
The campaign will also focus on community conversations and a train-to-trainer program.
“We’re going to be going into communities across central Florida with wellness programs to get people talking about mental health the way we talk about exercise,” Alvarez said.