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Dorian and Kristina
Posted November 6, 2019 | 4:30 AM

Hillsborough's Holistic Services Address Mental Health

County takes broad look to improve quality of life for kids, veterans, homeless

Dorian is an anxious 4-year-old who has trouble paying attention and following instructions.

His mom, Kristina Grider, took him to an array of preschools before settling on Grant Park Head Start in eastern Hillsborough County. There, counselors and instructors are helping Dorian cope with his diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, and are working with Kristina on her son's behavior challenges.

Kristina sees improvement, which she attributes to "everybody working together to get him the help he needs."

Whether it's a struggling child, a person living on the street, or a military veteran with suicidal thoughts, Hillsborough County is changing the way the community handles mental health. The focus is the whole person and their circumstances, not just a mental or emotional condition.

For instance, a homeless person with mental issues might lack a decent place to sleep, a way to get around town, regular nutritious meals, or proper medical care. Lacking any of these essential elements of self-sufficiency, the person can fall through the cracks.

Hillsborough County strives to overcome such obstacles.

Through its Health Care Services programs, Health Care Plan, and community partners, Hillsborough County aims to address a person's mental condition through a holistic approach - counseling, medication, and wrap-around social services. The County's groundbreaking Health Care Plan looks at all factors that might influence a member's behavior - including the use of opioids. From education and prevention, to treatment and recovery, the plan and its providers ensure that not only its members' medical needs are treated, but also their often co-occurring behavioral issues.

The same goes for Consumer & Veterans Services. Veterans' advocates look at the entire person and their living situation, rather than focus solely on a psychological issue. Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the County strives to ensure no veteran lacks needed services.

Head Start and Early Head Start, the County programs for preschoolers from low-income families, work with many children, some of whom have behavioral challenges. Too frequently those behaviors are blamed on a mental disorder, without digging to determine if that's the root cause.

Often, an unstable home environment is the culprit.

Head Start assesses each child to develop an individualized plan of action, which can lead to a diagnosis. The staff then works with parents, teachers, counselors, and the child to seek positive outcomes.

The approach complies with Hillsborough County's commitment to look at behavioral health, not just mental health.

When a detrimental mental or emotional condition is suspected, County health care, veteran, and child care experts, along with their nonprofit partners, try to discover the cause of the malady. From Tampa General and St. Joseph's hospitals, to the County's Behavioral Health and Opioid task forces, the County and its partners have a singular mission: Get a complete picture of a person and their circumstances.

Thanks to this focus, adults and children like Dorian have a better opportunity to be happy and productive members of the community.

Photo: Dorian looks at a book with his mom, Kristina Grider, at Grant Park Head Start.

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