Today, Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) announced a $1 million commitment in response to the Orange County Government’s Mental & Behavioral Health System of Care Community Analysis report. The report was released to Orange County Commissioners on February 22.
“Orange County can’t do this alone,” said Mayor Jerry L. Demings. “We need the entire community– including businesses and foundations – to step up and join forces. As we discovered through the recent report, mental health awareness and access to resources for help was one of the many challenges outlined. I am thrilled Heart of Florida United Way has stepped up as the first response and sees the urgency in this matter. Now we need others to follow.”
HFUW, which handles crisis and suicide calls through its 211 Information & Referral Crisis Line, will launch a tri-county culturally competent mental health campaign focused on breaking down the stigma of getting help, as well as a program to better equip community members to practice mental well-being.
According to the report, the length of time between when a person first experiences mental health symptom and when they seek treatment is 11 years. Without medical knowledge, many people are left unaware that they could benefit from treatment. The stigma of mental health is frequently an additional barrier to seeking care. Additionally, data shows that one person dies by suicide every 11 minutes, and many more have suicidal tendencies.
“There is absolutely no time to waste,” said Jeff Hayward, President & CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “Daily, we hear the need through the hundreds of residents who call the 211 Crisis Line for help. Upon facilitating the recent research for Orange County, it became even more evident that we have a role to play in contributing to this solution. 211 has been literally answering the call for 16 years in our community, helping to guide, de-escalate and connect. We know there is a lot of misinformation and stigma around seeking mental health services, and even more so within certain cultures. By contributing $1 million to launch a mental health awareness campaign, we hope to make this issue a more comfortable topic and help reduce the barriers of someone reaching out for help.”
Aligning with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) best practices, the campaign will consider linguistic and cultural barriers that exist, creating a culturally competent campaign with the intent of motivating those whose mental health is suffering to seek help. HFUW anticipates the full-scale awareness campaign will include a variety of media from Spanish radio, to billboards, to buses, to public service announcements. A request for proposal will be issued in the coming weeks seeking partners on this effort.
Whereas the mental health campaign will seek to destigmatize reaching out for help for mental illness, the training program aims at increasing mental wellness in our community. Just as doctors encourage eating healthy, staying active, and routine check-ups – preventative mental well-being techniques are equally important. HFUW is exploring a training program, in collaboration with a licensed mental health professional, to “train the trainer” on techniques and tools to help people deal with stress, develop coping skills and create stronger community support systems.
“United Way will take this training program into communities where we know resources are lacking across the tri-county area,” added Hayward. “The Report outlined that people trust and feel connected to leaders from their community – their churches, their neighborhoods, their community centers. These trainings target grassroots community leaders to help normalize and effectively reach community members. By creating more people trained in making an environment that supports mental well-being, we will create a more aware and healthy Central Florida.”
Although this investment is a start, there is much more work to do – in mental health and underlying circumstances effecting mental well-being in Central Florida.
Funding for this initiative is from a historic $20 million gift from philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott. This was the largest single gift HFUW has ever received in the organization’s 83-year history. HFUW initially remained silent about this generous gift, wanting to make sure the dollars are utilized most strategically towards addressing a few major issues in the tri-county area.
“We see this as a different way to make lasting change on the lives within our community,” continued Hayward. “In order to do so, we conducted research to help us identify the greatest needs and to make recommendations. Mental health awareness makes sense and is our first in a series of investments. We need to first eliminate the stigma and then help direct the greater underestimated community where they can get help and to know it’s okay to ask for help.”
In addition to investing in mental health, HFUW plans to make one transformational investment in each county and will announce these projects in several phases. Each investment will focus on four priority areas for lasting, community-level change: Pathways to Financial Prosperity, Strong Starts, Homes for the Heart of Florida, and Healthy Minds for Healthy Lives (which encompasses the mental health awareness campaign).
“MacKenzie Scott is the new standard for philanthropists to follow,” said Hayward. “We are grateful she selected us and now we want to make sure the dollars are used in a way that will transform lives and transform the most pressing health and human service issues for our residents. It is also our hope that other corporations and philanthropists step forward to generously give with us to ensure these dollars truly have the impact we want them to have. In order to live better, we must Live United.”
HFUW will continue to invest in strategic partner agencies to fund support services immediately available to Central Floridians in need. Likewise, HFUW will continue to fundraise and run workplace giving campaigns in order to do this. It still needs the community’s support for these various organizations and its own programs, like 211 Information & Referral Crisis Line.