Despite all the talk about government funding for mental health, Tampa Bay nonprofits aren’t seeing increases

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In the aftermath of the mass shootings this week, part of the conversation turned to mental illnesses and calls for increased government funding for mental health services.

In his speech Monday President Donald Trump suggested a link between acts of violence and mental health.

“Third, we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

But an article Wednesday in Time points out that there’s “ample evidence that gun violence is not a mental health problem.” It cites studies finding that “few U.S. mass shootings have been committed by people who were “mentally ill;” there is a much stronger correlation with other issues, like domestic violence.”

Regardless, mental health remains a real societal concern. And, despite politicians’ calls for increased funding, it appears that Tampa Bay area nonprofits that help people with mental illnesses are not seeing a new wave of government funding.

Former State Representative Sara Romeo is the CEO of Tampa Crossroads.

“No, it’s not increasing.

“We haven’t seen increases in mental health and substance abuse treatment dollars for many, many years. Typically, they’re always cutting. Over the past five years, we’ve lost treatment beds. We’ve lost treatment centers. We lose treatment dollars almost annually.

“And that’s kind of stunning because, as you know, there is a national crisis of the opioids. And, we’ve been talking a lot about that here, and trying to plan for how we would manage that crisis in our own community. And of course, having success with diverting people away, getting the care and the services that they need, costs money.

“So, the Feds really need to take a look at what’s going on mental health-wise, mental health dollars, and really advocate for some more dollars to come into the communities.”

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Romeo says government funds make up about a quarter of Tampa Crossroads’ funding for mental health services. She says most comes from county contracts and with the exception of “pass-throughs” that come through the county; there’s almost no federal funding.

Like at Tampa Crossroads, the president and CEO at Crisis Center of Tampa Bay says most of their government funding comes from Hillsborough County. Clara Reynolds says about a third of their overall budget is from government funds. And while government money for specific programs — like opioid addiction — is increasing, funding for mental health services in general is not on the rise. But she says if the federal and state governments stepped up funding, the Crisis Center could provide more mental health services.

“I think there would be three-fold services. One is awareness. Folks still don’t know where to go to find help when they need it. So, we’ve got to make sure that people know where to go.

“Once they find us, they need to have, really, an effortless experience. Be able to tell their story once, and get them the help that they need, whatever that help is.

“And, that would be my third thing, is that the funding would be able to be utilized in the way that’s going to meet the needs of the patient, as opposed to trying to fit the patient in to the dollars that are available.”

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Reynolds recommends that people in need call the telephone number 211 as a gateway to getting help or social services.

Joe Rutherford is the CEO of another local facility, Gracepoint. He says government funding for mental health and substance abuse is not adequate for the community’s need. And Florida is last in per capita funding.

“And it’s not that we’re last by a few dollars. We’re last by a lot.”

Despite that, Rutherford says there are some state legislators he calls “heroes,” who fight for increased mental health funding.

But overall it seems from the mental health providers WMNF spoke with, there’s more talk about increased funding than actual money.