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Community Voices: Overburdened mental health system needs our attention, commitment

Kimberly Jackson



Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and societal consequences have negatively affected many people’s mental health, and created new obstacles for those already suffering from mental illness. Mental health is a universal need, touching all socioeconomic strata, challenging young and old alike, and taxing all of our social systems, particularly our criminal justice system.  For those who live with mental illness, care for loved ones with mental illness, or simply witness it, the situation can seem overwhelming. 

At this moment of crisis, the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) has prioritized our community response to mental health needs, bringing the full force of our resources and convening capabilities to the topic. ISPS is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to exploration of issues and perspectives that affect communities throughout Florida. We strive to be a conduit for thinking and action via citizen engagement and civics literacy.  

After hearing from civic leaders, we hosted a conversation on the intersections between mental health and the criminal justice system. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman and Ashley Najar Roura, Public Defender and Director of Mental Health for the 6th Judicial Circuit came together as part of a virtual roundtable to discuss challenges and successes in addressing mental health’s role in the Florida justice system. 

To say it was enlightening is an understatement.

Sheriff Gualtieri emphasized the challenges of responding to mental health issues across the county.  Along with Judge Leifman, he reported that nearly 70% of the demands on the judicial system are a direct result of mental health challenges.  Both the sheriff and judge shared the obvious –  that the system is over-burdened. As a community, we have not dedicated the resources to adequately address mental health. 

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, a dedicated mental health advocate, outlined the complexity of the mental health issue and how it touches every aspect of public life. As a society we are just now beginning to put mental health on par with physical health and considering how to prioritize it in practice and in policy. While ISPS remains committed to enhancing, educating and engaging the community on mental health issues, we realize that we have much more work to do. A list of resources follows this column to help people get the help they need immediately – and for those who are able to advocate for and support these vital organizations in their commitment to better behavioral health in Tampa Bay.

With uncertainties around the pandemic continuing to create challenges for our community’s mental health, ISPS will continue to partner with community and thought leaders on the topic. We will continue to be diligent and strive to serve as a conduit of unbiased, factual information and resources so communities can listen, act, and work towards inclusive innovation to resolve the issues we, as Floridians, face together.

To learn more about the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC, including details of upcoming programs, visit: or call 727-394-6942. Socialize with us: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube 


Mental Health Resources

Emergency/ Hotline Resources

  • 911 – For all emergency situations
  •  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Available to anyone who feels suicidal or who is experiencing emotional distress.
  •  Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741. 24/7 texting for people in emotional distress or who are having suicidal thoughts.
  • 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares – dial 211 or text zip code to 898211. Crisis intervention and connection to local providers of health and human service programs.
  •  Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255 press 1 or send a text to 838255
  • Domestic Abuse Hotline – 1-800-799-7233 / 1-800-787-3224 (TTY
  • Rape/ Sexual Assault – 727-530-7273 or
  • Mobile Crisis Response Team – 727-362-4424 or – crisis mental health services for individuals 25 and younger. (Pinellas Only)


Behavioral Health/ Counseling/ Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment

        Connects you to an alliance of organizations ready to help.

        Affordable medical health and behavioral health care for Pinellas County residents.

        No cost mental health assessments, full service mental health care. (Pinellas Only)

  • Psychology Today – Private therapist finder by zip code or city. Provides therapist’s bio and lists treatment information.

      •   Central Florida Behavioral Health Network –

      Resource finder for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

      •   Directions for Living – 727-524-4464 or

      Adult and child psychiatry, therapy, peer recovery, support and homeless services.

      •   NAMI of Pinellas County – 727-791-3434 or

      Mental health helpline for people, family members, caregivers, and the public.

       •   Operation PAR 888-727-6398 –

       Addiction and mental health services.

      Comprehensive emotional wellness and trauma services for adults, children, and families.

      •   SAMHSA Mental Health Service Locator –

     Online resource to find local assistance with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.


Domestic Violence

      •   CASA – 727-895-4912 or

      Domestic Violence Center providing shelter, treatment, legal, educational, and other services.

      •   Hope Villages of America – 727-584-3528 or

      Domestic violence, homelessness, hunger, and basic needs.

Housing and Homeless Services

  • 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares – dial 211 or text your zip code to 898211 or – Provides crisis intervention and connects people to local providers of health and human service programs.
  • Homeless Shelter and Services Directory Online shelter locator.



  • Metro Wellness – 727-321-3854 or, medical, and support services including classes, groups, individual counseling, HIV testing and treatment.
  • The Trevor Project – 1-866-488-7386 or thetrevorproject.orgFor LBGTQ who are experiencing crisis and/or emotional distress.



  • Bay Pines VA Healthcare System –
  • VA General Information Hotline – 800-827-1000
  • SPC Veterans Services 727-341-7990



  • SPC Food Pantry –
  • Transportation – SPC has an agreement with PSTA to allow all SPC students, faculty and staff a free, any time, all routes, universal.

Kimberly Jackson is Executive Director at Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS).

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