The devastation caused by Hurricane Ian will have reverberating effects on our state for years. News stories and videos of our communities wracked by death and destruction are seen across the world alongside continuing stories about events like the war in Ukraine and the COVID pandemic.
Florida has been a state in mourning, fighting a mental health crisis fueled largely by a relentless opioid epidemic that has taken its toll on our communities and our collective psyche.
Hurricane Ian added a new layer of misery in parts of our state, impacting health care facilities across Florida and making it difficult for medically vulnerable people to get care they need.
The storm’s aftermath includes lingering harm to many Floridians’ mental health. Many who lived through the storm or were indirectly impacted, are experiencing trauma responses to cope with losses. These responses include shock, depression, grief and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion and physical health symptoms are common responses that come with the impact of such natural disasters. Those suffering mental health impacts can appear numb and emotionless. They can have nightmares and suffer from anxiety and agitation.
Florida ranks second in the country in terms of both the prevalence of mental illness and in the number of our citizens dying from drug overdoses. We’re ranked 49th nationally in access to mental health care, according to the 2022 State of Mental Health in America report.
These bleak statistics, combined with the impacts of Hurricane Ian, are why Florida’s mental health professionals are applauding the recent announcement that federal authorities allocated more than $314 million to help train and place mental health counselors in crisis units and schools. This comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis last spring allocated more than $120 million in new, recurring revenue for community mental health and substance abuse services.
While our state and federal leaders have recognized the mental health crisis Florida faces, these complex and multi-layered issues will not be resolved quickly. We must continue to focus on reducing the stigma around asking for help, building a stable and sustainable behavioral health workforce and leveraging innovation and technology to address collective individual and community trauma.
Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO, LSF Health Systems, Jacksonville
This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.