NAMI Hernando

SPRING HILL — In the past year, the world has seen just how important taking care of our mental health can be, and Hernando County is no exception.

Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness Hernando have revamped the way counselors help families and individuals suffering through crisis by providing online and telephone services — all with three staff members and 15 volunteers. The nonprofit offers educational support, advocacy, training for community members and businesses for mental health first aid, as well as youth mental health first aid and suicide prevention.

NAMI Hernando Executive Director Tina Kinney said the organization has seen a drastic increase in the number of calls for help and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. Two of 5 adults now experience a mental illness, compared with 1 of 5 adults in 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of the population has been diagnosed with a mental illness — that’s double the percentage from the pre-COVID pandemic.

Kinney said that in Hernando, more than 73,000 individuals in the community are living with symptoms of a mental health condition.

“Our services are needed more than ever,” Kinney said. “Giving the community the skills they need to recognize the signs and symptoms (of mental illness) can help alleviate people ending up in crisis. The sooner someone gets help, the better off they are in the long run.”

The organization has some obstacles of its own to overcome as it tries to keep up with the growing demands for mental health services. The nonprofit put in a $1 million appropriations request to the state to build a recovery community organization on 4.4 acres of land donated by the county on Forest Oaks Boulevard. The center would serve as a “one-stop shop” with a variety of resources under one roof. Once built, Kinney said the nonprofit could invite different community partners, such as the homeless coalition or CareerSource, to meet with the public one day a week.

Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, signed the appropriation request and, if approved within the next couple of months, the build can get started July 1.

“We are providing so many of the mental health services in our community to so many people, we’re really hoping we can get that approved,” Kinney said. “We’ve requested the funding the last couple of years and we hadn’t gotten it. We’re hoping that this year will be the year, especially with the focus on mental health since COVID, we think it’s even now more necessary than ever.”

During a six-month period of July to December 2020, Kinney said NAMI Hernando serviced 1,092 individuals. Between job loss, changes in education, and unaffordable housing, residents are suffering from stress and anxiety, in addition to not always feeling comfortable going out in public.

A $20,000 grant from Suncoast Credit Union in December helped the nonprofit in a time where public fundraising isn’t easy to produce. The nonprofit is currently looking for more volunteers and welcomes donations accepted on its website.

NAMI Hernando offers some in-person and virtual peer support groups for youth and adults with a schedule available by visiting https://namihernando.org/nami-hernando-virtual-meeting-information.

To reach NAMI Hernando’s CARE line, call 352-316-7783. The phone line is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday. For more information, visit www.namihernando.org.