ORLANDO, Fla. – Mental health experts in Central Florida have resources to share with residents, including some furry four-legged helpers.
For Dr. Beth Long, chief of Behavioral Health at Nemours Children’s Health, her work during the pandemic was from inside the hospital, caring for patients with complex medical needs in addition to mental health concerns.
“I would say about a year in, I saw the kids and families start to struggle more than I had initially (seen),” Long said.
Data from Nemours Emergency Department from April 2021 to April 2022 showed two and a half times more pediatric patients with positive suicide screenings.
Long said even with the latest efforts to increase mental health resources for people in Central Florida, the need is overwhelming.
“Even if we hired 20 more people, it feels like this bottomless pit that we just cannot fill, and that’s the worst thing (is) saying no to people who need help,” Long said.
Residents in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in immediate crisis can call 2-1-1 for at-home crisis care through Devereux’s mobile crisis services.
As providers navigate the national mental health crisis, helpers on four legs are walking the halls of the hospital.
“There’s one dog that’s addicted to hand sanitizer, so it’s hilarious when he comes in the rooms,” Long said.
Sheila Roberts is a volunteer with Animal Assisted Activities. She brought her dog Halo to the hospital to visit with pediatric patients.
“He cares if someone’s crying, he’s going to quietly go up to them, but if there’s a party going on, he’s going to be jumping up,” Roberts said.
Long said visits from the dogs tend to be the highlight of the day for both patients and providers.
“It does certainly break up the day, it’s probably the thing they most look forward to,” Long said.
As the work for mental healthcare providers grows, the dogs offer a sense of peace to help everyone move forward.
“It’s okay, we will rebuild,” Long said.
If you or someone you love need mental health care, we have a list of phone numbers and websites to find help.