TAMPA, Fla. — Mental health advocates in Florida say the state has a long way to go toward helping those struggling with their mental health. Help is needed right now during the holidays amid an omicron variant surge.
"People are in need," Natsha A. Pierre, a local mental health advocate said. "People have been living in a pressure cooker for the last two years."
Pierre says people living with mental health issues, like most of the country, are struggling to get out from under coronavirus. Right now, during the holiday season, COVID-positive family members may miss getting together with loved ones. Isolating instead of celebrating.
“No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’re feeling, you are never alone," Pierre said.
Help is always available, but Pierre does not believe Florida's mental health care system is doing its best to reach those experiencing mental anxiety.
"We really need to come together to create a system of care that doesn’t leave people feeling hopeless," she said.
Pierre points out excessive costs for medication and insurance as well as a system-wide dependence on pill treatment rather than therapy. Pierre's number one issue is a lack of short-term rehabilitation housing for those just released from mental health institutions.
“A place that will teach them how to understand their diagnosis, how to take their medication, how to respond to treatment and really to create a recovery plan," she said
Such a plan may have helped Stephen Sundquist find his way out from under the dark cloud of addiction sooner than he did.
"I found myself in a very, very dark place," Sundquist said.
He tells ABC Action News he got hooked on prescription medications after he suffered a severe injury playing baseball for River Ridge High School.
“I lost many opportunities, friends, relationships…addiction rots you from everything," Sundquist said.
Addiction spreads from the inside, out. Sunquist says his dependence on opiates led to isolation from his family, depression, and thoughts of suicide.
“There were times where I was literally contemplating hanging it up, because I didn’t want to feel that way anymore, and I know a lot of people go through those same issues," he said.
Sundquist has harnessed eight years of pain into, what he calls, his purpose. The interventionist speaks with addicts and others struggling with mental health to help save them from themselves.
“A voice for the voiceless. That light in the dark, and someone that will be there for you whenever you need it. And to help people understand that it’s okay not to be okay," Sundquist said.
If you are struggling with mental health over the holiday weekend or at any other time, there is always instant help available, 741-741 is a 24-hour crisis text line. You can also call Tampa Bay Thrives' "Let's Talk" line at 833-DIAL-111 to reach a counselor at any hour.