Sarasota Magazine: Philanthropy Inspires Advances in Youth Mental Healthcare

Sarasota Magazine: Philanthropy Inspires Advances in Youth Mental Healthcare

The following article was written by Gulf Coast Community Foundation and appeared on Sarasota Magazine’s website on September 7, 2023.

Philanthropy plays an important role in supporting mental health opportunities for our community.

Since 2018, the Here4YOUth Initiative of Charles & Margery Barancik FoundationGulf Coast Community Foundation (Gulf Coast), and its local donors has invested over $2 million to improve mental healthcare and wellness resources in our community. Thanks to Gulf Coast’s innovative philanthropists and years of Here4YOUth research, we understand and are addressing growing youth mental health needs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2021 that more than four in 10 high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third experienced poor mental health. They also reported that more than one in five students seriously considered attempting suicide and one in 10 attempted suicide. According to the USF study Gulf Coast and Barancik Foundations commissioned, the annual economic impact of untreated mental illness in children, youth, and young adults in Sarasota County is $86,179,317.

woman in doctor's coat smiles at camera
Dr. Robinder Bhangoo

During the Here4YOUth Initiative meetings with nonprofits and participants of mental health services in 2021 the need for a Youth Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program, particularly for un- and underinsured teens, was identified. While the program existed for adults, it was not available for those under the age of 18.

Sarasota Memorial’s Behavioral Health team worked diligently to fill this gap in services and in 2022, the Here4YOUth Initiative awarded a $250,233 grant to Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to help launch Sarasota Memorial’s Youth Intensive Outpatient Program (Youth IOP). The goal of the Youth IOP is to provide up to nine hours of support per week to teens in need after school to help them achieve their goals and avoid crisis care whenever possible.

Serving youth ages 13-17, the Youth IOP program typically runs for four to six weeks with eight to 10 youth treated at a time regardless of their financial capacity to pay for treatment. There are many fun and interactive activities that engage adolescents in the program, like expressive arts that will capture their attention. The program includes individual counseling, family education, skill building, and more, all with the goal of creating a supportive environment that reflects on the youth’s strengths and challenges.

“Improving the capacity and quality of our healthcare system happens behind the scenes and rarely makes news,” shared Gulf Coast’s Director of Community Leadership Jennifer Johnston. “In this case, young adults and their families are receiving the care they need and it makes a world of difference for each young person. What’s the value of a teen feeling well enough to return to in-person school, avoiding an involuntary hospitalization, and reaching their goals? Priceless.”

Transforming Together

Gulf Coast sat down with Terry Cassidy, LCSW, Executive Director of Sarasota Memorial’s Behavioral Health Services, to learn more.

Q: How has the Here4YOUth Initiative transformed the lives of young adults seeking mental healthcare in this Intensive Outpatient Program?

Cassidy: “The youth entering the program are often coming in with debilitating levels of depression and anxiety. Their parents are in a tremendous amount of pain and are also feeling depressed and anxious. We are able to help the parents with skills and education about mental illness. We show them how to help their child through the crisis and on a daily basis. On a brighter note, those youth with severe depression are leaving the program with slight depression or resolved depression. The Here4YOUth grant is why the program existsWe saw a tremendous need and we wouldn’t have been able to run this program without the generosity of Gulf Coast Community Foundation and their philanthropists.

woman sits and smiles at camera
Terry Cassidy, LCSW

Q: Could you share a story with us of an individual who has completed the Youth Intensive Outpatient Program?

Cassidy: “Often times, the kids in this program feel they are different and that they don’t fit in with others. Once they come to the program and see other youth who are having similar experiences and feelings, they form a meaningful connection with them. We had a young girl come in who immediately scored severe depression on a scale we used during the assessment. She was isolated. She didn’t want to live and was engaging in self-harm behavior. She came into the program very reluctantly. Now, this girl has learned effective coping skills and found a best friend in the Youth IOP.  Both girls completed the program recently. They are starting school together and now have a built-in support system! When this teen left the program, she scored minimally on the depression scale.  She is looking forward to school and participating in other activities. Her parents are relieved and have hope for her future. That is a success story in my book.”

Q: How has Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s support impacted this program?

Cassidy: “Without the grant, this program wouldn’t exist. COVID-19 amplified mental health issues and really put them on everyone’s radar. More people are talking about mental health. We are so grateful for the philanthropists who are stepping up to help us provide for critical needs. We are very fortunate to have this program. We have put together an A-team consisting of a child and adolescent psychiatrist, therapists, and coordinator. We have an amazing level of expertise and we wanted to find the right people to really make this program successful for families and youth. Because the program is so intensive, a lot of work gets done by the teen and you can actually see the progress of healing.”

To learn more about Gulf Coast’s impact on mental healthcare, click here.