You notice there’s something going on with your child. They’re a little moody or responding aggressively at the drop of a hat. Perhaps they’re withdrawn and just not their normal, outgoing self. You chalk it up to stress, the pressures of growing up, or the impending summer vacation away from school and friends, but how do you know when it’s really time to be concerned and ask the professionals?

While counties across Florida stepped up their mental health programs this past school year with the requirements mandated by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, there continue to be sporadic situations resulting in zero tolerance responses from school districts and law enforcement. After all, there’s no room for error.

Among those resources receiving additional funding and attention, mental health support has risen to the forefront of the conversation. Prevention, response and long-term care are the new buzz words for legislators, administrators and families.

Options and plans vary among the 67 counties in Florida but one thing is for sure, schools, law enforcement and mental health providers are working in tandem to ensure the children in their communities are receiving the best possible support and care.

Addressing the Root Causes …

Here in St. Johns County, Florida’s number one school district, administrators say programs are put into place for students from an early age, to help set the stage for positive outcomes, however unforeseen factors in a child’s life can lead to a crisis situation.

Working to de-escalate situations, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the process of CIT or crisis intervention training according to Sheriff David Shoar,
a longtime advocate for mental health services in
St. Johns County.

“We have deputies at the schools and we are very closely in touch and collaborate almost daily with the folks in the school system,” said Shoar. “We have early warning systems in place at our schools for children who may be experiencing something that we’re not aware of.”

Another tool in the toolbox for the school district is
their network of like-minded agencies with rapid response times.

The St. Johns County School district partnered with St. Augustine Youth Services (SAYS) in 2015 to launch the Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT), according to the non-profit’s director of development, Chelsea Reppin.

“We’ve been serving children in St. Johns County for 30 years and we have a number of community services we offer since moving to our new campus six years ago,” said Reppin.

“In partnership with the school district and law enforcement, if a child is experiencing a social or behavioral crisis, our licensed mental health counselors can actually respond to the hotline calls and go assess the child and make a recommendation of whether they do need to be Baker Acted or involuntarily hospitalized,” she said.

Over 1,000 calls have been made to the 24-hour a day mobile crisis response team in nearly five years and have resulted in an 82% diversion rate, says Reppin.

“It’s so important for a child experiencing a crisis to have a licensed mental health counselor available,” said Reppin.

“We also connect that child and their family to resources, so we’re providing that wrap around care for them as well. It’s really making sure that kids who are experiencing a mental health crisis in St. Johns County are getting the services that they need.”

You can find out more information about St. Augustine Youth Services, by visiting

For those with more serious mental health issues that require long-term care plans, the Florida Mental Health Act or Baker Act, as it is commonly known, provides crisis intervention and evaluation to prevent self-harm or harm to others. In St. Johns County, Flagler Health+ is the only certified receiving center.

The Florida Mental Health Act 2016-17 Annual Report, compiled by the University of South Florida, shows St. Johns County with 906 involuntary Baker Act admissions, with 18.87% of those being individuals under the age
of 18.

Why Is This Important?

Identifying the root causes can be challenging, and Kelly Battell, Director of Student Services for the St. Johns County School District lists anxiety, depression and ADHD or attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, among the top mental health issues students face.

Mental Health America, previously known as the National Mental Health Association, released alarming national statistics in their 2018 report, noting that across the United States, access to mental health services was limited and “over 1.7 million youth with major depressive episodes did not receive treatment,” with their rate of depression increasing from 5.9% to 8.2%, over five years.

Prevention is a key component and the school district has implemented a number of social emotional learning programs known as SEL strategies. These strategies include Where Everybody Belongs (WEB), Character Counts!, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), LINK Crew, and Sources of Strength, a mental health support/prevention program, which Battell says the school district will be piloting next school year.

Working to differentiate between childhood outbursts and genuine mental health issues is a fine line many parents can’t walk on their own.

It Really Does Take a Village …

When it comes to identifying and tackling mental health challenges with our children, no one entity or agency can do it alone, and collaboration among the community resources, under a single umbrella, helps provide the needed support to ensure success.

“Our schools work with families to help support the families’ long-term mental health needs and care,” said Kyle Dresback, Associate Superintendent of Student Support Services. “Our social workers provide community resources that are available for not just students but also the family.”

“One community resource we rely heavily on is St. Johns Care Connect through Flagler Health+. We also provide a list of local resources for families in need as well as help to coordinate some of these services,” he said.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis situation, call 911. More information on steps you can take to get help can be found on pages 8 & 14.

For more information on the services available through the St. Johns Care Connect, visit

About the Author: Danielle Anderson, a resident of Palm Coast, Florida has worked in the public relations and media industry for a decade. Writing for high profile publications across the state, Danielle started her career as a news reporter for Flagler Broadcasting, where she discovered her passion for telling the stories of communities in Florida.

Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis announced a statewide initiative on May 16, 2019 “Hope for Healing Florida” in conjunction with the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to assist children, families and individuals facing mental health and substance abuse issues.

Utilizing a centralized website, those seeking information will find resources on suicide prevention, depression and anxiety, bullying, and a comprehensive treatment locator. Find out more by visiting

Danielle Anderson

Danielle Anderson, a resident of Palm Coast, Florida
has worked in the public relations and media industry for
a decade. Writing for high profile publications across the
state, Danielle started her career as a news reporter for
Flagler Broadcasting, where she discovered her passion
for telling the stories of communities in Florida.