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Volusia & Flagler

Mental Wellness Issue 2019/2020

Volusia & Flagler 2019/2020

Volusia & Flagler

Volusia & Flagler 2019/2020
Mental Wellness Issue 2019/2020

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What are the warning signs of mental illness in children?

Warning signs that your child might have a mental health condition include:

Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.

Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.

Behavior changes. These include drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.

Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.

Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.

Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition might develop headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness
or anxiety.

Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also might develop suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

Understanding Special Needs

Every individual, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, economic status or physical ability, has basic, fundamental needs in order to grow and develop into independent, healthy adults. In this regard, we are all the same. Beyond food, shelter and safety, we need to feel love and a sense of belonging. Satisfying these essential needs provides us with the necessary supportive foundation to help us move forward and reach our full potential. The absence of these critical elements can deeply affect our ability to experience a full and stable life.

One can delve deeper into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand the physiological and psychological impact on mental wellness when any one of these fundamental needs is missing. How each individual manages this challenging balance is what makes us all different…and for someone who was born with a developmental disability, they need assistance achieving that balance.

Shirley Zonnevylle, Director of Adult Day Training for Duvall Homes – a Florida nonprofit, which provides residential supportive care and programming for people with developmental disabilities – holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a Minor in Psychology and has 27 years experience working with mental health, social services and developmental disabilities. She recently commented that there remains a broad misconception that mental illness and developmental disability are one in the same.

“Individuals with a developmental disability typically have an IQ below 70, have limited intellectual functioning and communication, and are diagnosed at an early age,” said Zonnevylle. “The difference is that mental illness affects one’s mood, thinking and behavior, and can be diagnosed at any age,” added Zonnevylle.

Fundamental needs impact development during gestation, during infancy and throughout life’s many stages. Family members and professional support Specialists ensure that essential needs, including respect, esteem and self-actualization, are met when caring for people with a developmental disability. Once diagnosed (through an assessment of early childhood milestones), treatment goals are set to ensure there is balance in all aspects of the individual’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Recognizing and understanding the differences between an individual with a mental illness and one with a developmental disability, helps us to be informed advocates so that both have potential to be active and productive members of our community.

Lisa Habermehl

Director of Marketing & Special Projects, Duvall Homes, Inc.

Teaming Up to Create a Culture of Mental Health and Wellness

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.

The Webster School Helping Families in Need By Bethany Groves

Schools have long been the primary support for families in the area of academic development. But now, schools also address students’ physical and nutritional needs, social and emotional needs and even the mental health needs of children. Current statistics state that at least 1 out of 5 children show signs of mental illness. These illnesses can include depression and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, ADHD, anger issues and even suicide. In children challenged with poverty, that 1 in 5 number can soar much higher. Schools have to be informed and equipped to address these needs.

The Webster School, an elementary Pre-K to 5th grade school in St. Johns County, has partnered with Children’s Home Society, Flagler Health+ and St. Johns River Community College to support students in need. As a Title 1 school, at least 75% of the Webster students are processing the challenges of trauma. The Community Partnership School organized by these three Core Partners along with the St Johns County School District is assisting and supporting families in many areas. One of the greatest areas of early success has been mental health. Webster now has two full-time mental health counselors supporting students in need. These two counselors meet with children both one-on–one and in small groups to support their mental health. Providing this support through school helps families get the assistance needed when they may not otherwise be able to access these resources.

In addition, Webster has started Morning Meetings in every classroom where students are able to build a classroom community, practice manners, social skills and self-regulation skills. Students learn to identify their emotions accurately as well as develop tools to respond to stress appropriately.

While summer is often a stress-free time for children, for those with trauma exposure or mental health needs, summer may not necessarily be an easy time. The administrators and counselors at Webster would like to offer these summertime suggestions to parents as they support mentally healthy children.

1) Get Children Outside – Light exposure and exercise are both healthy ways in which the body regulates its own wellness. Endorphins fuel positive hormones in the body that can lift overall mood and emotional outlook.

2) Limit Screen Time – Time outside of school is extra time to pursue other interests and build relationships, not just sitting in front of TVs, phones and computers. More than 2 hours of screen time per day can have very unhealthy effects on children of all ages. Instead of screens, encourage your child to read, pursue crafts, draw, play sports, enjoy nature, and engage in outdoor activities and behaviors that use their imagination.

3) Continue Routines – Most children, and especially those processing the effects of trauma, respond positively to routines. Keeping a set bedtime, time to wake up, and mealtime, helps children’s bodies stay regulated and provides a sense of comfort from the predictability of routines.

4) Keep Your Children Social – Children need access to playmates, especially since their classmates may live in different neighborhoods. Plan to take children to the park, beach or playground. Encourage them to meet their friends there to encourage healthy social interaction and to fend off boredom and depression.

5) Be Mindful of Nutrition – The heat can decrease the appetite of some children. Make sure to keep children eating healthy and maintaining a proper intake of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.

6) Remember School is Still Here – While children are out and teachers are off, there are still those who work through the summer at schools and can connect families with resources to meet needs. Please call your local school if your family needs support through the summer.

Bethany Groves

This native Kentuckian, Bethany Groves received her Bachelors in Elementary Education from OU, and Masters in Reading from NKU. After teaching several years, Ms. Groves completed her Educational Leadership Certification from IUPUI and then transplanted to her new home in St. Augustine where she has been an administrator in the St. Johns County School District for 13 years.

Happy & Successful Kids: Perspective Taking—Walk a While in My Shoes

One of the most important skills we can teach our children is to see another person’s point of view. If we’re honest, we’ll acknowledge it’s difficult for us grown-ups to do that very thing. It’s hard trying to imagine what another person is thinking or feeling. It’s not always pleasant to give another person what they want or need. How do we respond when
we disagree?

But those children who learn to respect another’s perspective and who choose to honor another person’s desires will be healthier, happier and more successful in life. Learning when and how to move beyond their own welfare and reach out to another person with understanding is an attainable goal for young children.

When we teach lifeskills, we’re teaching children to take charge of their own behaviors and attitudes. We’re giving them tools to use as they learn and grow and develop their unique personalities in our complex world. How will they cope with life choices, relationships and challenges?

Here’s some good news for parents! There are simple everyday activities to add to daily routines that will build these important skills. Let’s take a closer look at Perspective Taking.

Perspective taking is more than empathy—feeling sorry for another person. It’s also about figuring out how others think and feel. Children learn to understand the intent of other’s actions and this often avoids conflict.

All of us prefer to spend time with people who are tuned in to our point of view. We tend to avoid those who are critical or highly competitive. We want to be with those who understand us. Children who can go beyond their own needs and care about the needs and problems of others will be more successful in both learning and building friendships. This is called “understanding the other.”

How to Promote Perspective Taking

By being intentional in developing perspective taking in your children, you’ll give them many opportunities to recognize and practice the skill of understanding the needs of others. You’ll give them alternative behaviors to use when a potentially problematic situation arises.

You may find that returning to an earlier problem and talking it through after the fact is more beneficial than trying to teach the skill in “the heat of the moment.” Children who feel safe and accepted are more able to enter into problem-solving discussions than those who feel harshly judged and “wrong or bad.” It’s good to remember that feelings are not wrong in and of themselves, but it’s the way we act on them that can cause conflict.

Here are some ways to enter into conversation with your child to build the skill of perspective-taking.

Ask leading questions such as “What could that person be thinking? Feeling?”

Practice problem-solving in steps. What is the problem? What do we want? What can we do? And did we succeed? You might want to make a simple chart to use when walking through a real-life conflict.

Model language that leads to a resolution, not more conflict. For example you might say, “You’re upset. Maybe you need some quiet time.”

Listen to your child’s ideas and reassure them of unconditional love.

Use everyday experiences to talk about other people’s perspectives. “What is that character thinking?” “How does it feel when a friend takes your toy?”

Encourage pretend play. Acting out various character’s words and actions is a healthy way to explore other perspectives.

When you observe conflicts, take the opportunity to talk about the problem. “Why do you think Jimmy got angry with his friend?” or “What else could he have done?”

Putting ourselves in another person’s shoes isn’t easy. And it’s possible to make mistakes. We may fail to take another person’s background, training, and life experience into account when judging their behaviors and beliefs. We may find that we’ll never “click” with another’s way of living or their perspective on life, but we choose to respect them anyway.

Perspective taking helps children make sense of their world. It helps them understand other people’s thoughts and behaviors and predict what might happen in a given situation. Children who learn this skill adjust better in both learning and social situations and are better prepared to make their way through life with kindness and understanding.

Jan Pierce

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged. Find Jan at

Embracing Hectic Times: Don’t Let A Busy Schedule Wear Your Family Down

Stress, short-tempers, and the seeming inability of the household to function smoothly are typical signals that you may have slightly overdone it in the commitments department.

So, you overscheduled your family. This does not make you a bad person or a poor parent. Your family simply has a voracious appetite for participation. What’s the harm in that? The only reason to alter your set course is if someone in your clan is physically, mentally or emotionally unable to participate. If you have to pull some plugs for any of these reasons, it’s perfectly okay if you do.

But if you are simply cycling through an extra-hectic time of the year with many activities happening all at once, you are certainly not alone. Whether you see the hectic times coming in advance or only realize the chaos when it is almost upon you, there are some specific strategies you can take as a family that will help you slay the activity-overwhelm dragon before anyone gets burned. See if these tips are helpful:

Call a family meeting. Take charge of the situation as soon as you can by calling a family meeting. Tell everyone to bring their calendars and scheduling tools, if they are old enough to manage their own. Make some beverages, put out some cookies, and go through the upcoming week one day at a time. Now is also time to figure out carpooling, best shopping times, and whether or not it is humanly possible to squeeze everything in.

Make scheduling a weekly event. Some families have formal, complex family meeting but this is not going to help most families because you won’t likely stick with it. Instead, a quick drink and cookie break on Sunday afternoons might just turn into something everyone actually enjoys. At the end of the scheduling session, ask, “Does anyone have anything else they want to discuss?” Soon, you’ll be kicking each week off strong using the power of good, old-fashioned communication.

Create a master calendar. Every person in the family who is old enough to write should have his or her own calendar. Without a master plan you are going to lose track of the big picture. Assign one parent as the keeper of the master plan and keep it updated daily. Put all your critical to-dos on it. Glance at it in the morning and before bed. Much stress will disappear once one person takes on the role of family dispatcher.

Expect everyone to be responsible. Just because you are the dispatcher, does not mean you should manage schedules for kids who are old enough to do it themselves. Taking responsibilities off of your children’s shoulders does not serve them or the family. Who is the weakest link in this scheduling arrangement? Let them know how important good communication is, not just in the family, but also in life in general. Then help them figure out a system that works well for them. Try to make the most of their natural strengths if they are predominantly visual, verbal, aural, physical or logical.

Keep priorities straight. If you are following these suggestions and meeting your family commitments still feels unmanageable, then some things are going to have to give. Don’t look to others to find out where your feelings of overwhelm are originating — look within. Have you let your priorities become confused? When you are a spouse and a parent, your first priorities are the people who live under your roof. If you are taking care of others who are already adults, then it’s time to remember your irreplaceable role to your family. Your family comes first and other commitments come afterwards.

Let the extraneous go. Here’s the secret to a happy life for you and your family: don’t do what you think is expected of you. Do what you want to do. Although peer pressure may still be challenging for your kids, it should be a no-brainer for you. You don’t need to do what the Jones family does. You need to do what your family does. Period. The world needs the unique contributions of every member of your family. And no one is going to blossom if everyone is running around like a bunch of followers. So lead by example and live the life you want to live. Steer your own course and teach your kids to steer theirs. If you do, your kids will follow your lead and be engaged and happy no matter how busy they are — on any given day of any given week.

Books To Help Simplify Family Life

In your down time, if you have any, you can dream up ways to streamline family life by checking out these books:

Simplicity Parenting, Using The Extraordinary Power Of Less To Raise Calmer, Happier, And More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

No Regrets Parenting, Turning Long Days And Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids by Harley A Rotbart, M.D.

Mindful Parenting, Simple And Powerful Solutions For Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids In Today’s Hectic World by Kristen Race

Family Bucket Lists, Bring More Fun, Adventure & Camaraderie Into Every Day By Lara Krupicka

Christina Katz

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz loves jungle gym slides, water park slides, Slip N’ Slides, and Chutes And Ladders, but not the summer slide.