The month of May is focused on raising awareness for mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that 1:4 Americans will suffer from some sort of mental illness this year and that nearly 660,000 Floridians live with a serious mental illness every day.
Mental illness is particularly difficult for those facing homelessness. In a recent presentation made by Dr. Richard Christensen, Sulzbacher Center’s Director of Behavioral Health Services, at JCCI’s “Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida”, Dr. Christensen shared sobering statistics about the impact of mental illness within the population of persons contending with homelessness in Jacksonville: “Mental illness needs to be understood as both a cause and consequence of homelessness among persons who are living on our streets and in our shelters. Current research estimates that anywhere from 25-30 % of persons experiencing homelessness struggle with a serious mental illness.”
Many Jacksonville residents are familiar with The Sulzbacher Center, but some do not realize the medical services offered by the Sulzbacher Clinics. In addition to primary health care and dental services, the Sulzbacher Clinics also provide Behavior Health services such as mental health diagnosis, treatment, counseling, medication management, and medical case management. The Sulzbacher Clinics provide healthcare to uninsured or homeless residents of downtown Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach. After being seen by the clinic’s primary health physician, patients who may benefit from behavioral health services are referred to the Behavioral Health division, free of charge.
“We are seeing a steady increase in those requesting behavioral health services,” explains Christensen.” Over the past 12 months, the Sulzbacher Downtown Clinic had almost 4,000 patient visits with close to 400 new patients. The Sulzbacher Beaches Clinic had close to 2,000 total behavioral health visits with over 150 new patients.
In 2011 Lisa was homeless. She was referred to the Sulzbacher Downtown Clinic by a partner agency. Thanks to her mental health counselor, and two years of hard work on Lisa’s part, she is steadily improving. “I was suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was having thoughts of taking my own life. I started receiving counseling from Tory Wilcox, (a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at the Sulzbacher Downtown Clinic). She helped me understand my behavior.” Lisa now says with her ongoing treatment “…the voices are gone, I am not as confused or panic as easily. I no longer have nightmares and [I] haven’t tried to kill myself or even wanted to. I wouldn’t be here without the help of the Sulzbacher Center. I am thankful for everyone who helped me, and who is continuing to help me.”
Lisa is just one story of how important and impactful behavioral health services can be. The Behavioral Health Clinic at the Sulzbacher Center sees patients every day like Lisa and is able to help them. Providing behavioral health services for those who need the services is crucial to helping individuals find the way home.