Online bridges to provide mental health care for all

May 10, 2023

Program offers a broad spectrum of services for mental health

ORLANDO | Mental health disorders do not discriminate, therefore access to mental health shouldn’t discriminate either.

Whether young, elderly or in between, mental illness pervades humanity, and it is on the rise. Care is often financially out of reach and appointments are frequently scheduled months away, far removed from a crisis.

Acknowledging the difficulty in accessing psychiatric services nationwide due to increased demand, scarcity of psychiatrists and affordability, Catholic Charities of Central Florida Behavioral Health Services contracted with Genoa Telepsychiatry, a company providing psychiatric services via videobased sessions readily available for clients, at an affordable price, within a reasonable time frame.

“Our relationship with Genoa Telepsychiatry allows us to access critical psychiatric support and guidance, providing medication management for those clients needing it,” said Catholic Charities of Central Florida president, Deacon Gary Tester. “This is a component of our behavioral health ministry that has been missing and sorely needed – through the support of our Health Care Services board, we have now created a meaningful partnership that enhances our capabilities.”

He noted the partnership embraces Bishop John Noonan’s commitment to harmonized ministries as a critical priority. “As the outward face of the Corporal Works of Mercy for the diocese, Catholic Charities strives to create meaningful relationships that promote effective ministries to meet our brothers and sisters in need where they are,” said Deacon Tester.

Echoing the concern for psychiatric access, Catherine Galda, who is Behavioral Health Services director and a licensed practitioner, said, “Our clients have a difficult time getting medicine from someone who understands psychiatric medication, and who can provide that service at a reasonable price. There are not a lot of practicing psychiatrists in Florida for the population. Typically, you go to a general practitioner who prescribes medicine. But if it’s a more complex mental health challenge, then at some point a family practitioner may not have the expertise in that area to prescribe and change medicines.”

She explained the services with Genoa began April 9. For the time being, if someone contacts Behavioral Health looking for services, whether a new client or an existing one, they go through a standard intake – documenting symptoms, past and present treatments, and more. Then they are referred to a clinician. If a practitioner determines medication is needed, Genoa nurse practitioner, Aline Paredes does a psychiatric evaluation. If applicable, they are then linked with a telepsychiatrist from Genoa.

“Currently we are admitting into Genoa our current clients that are in need of medicine or evaluation, and those already on medications looking for a provider for a lower cost,” Galda said. Catholic Charities is also considering increasing the hours of their Genoa nurse practitioner because the need is so great.

The increase in demand for mental health services has particularly soared among youth and young adults. In an effort for earlier identification of behavioral health issues, Galda and her team offer presentations to a broad spectrum of individuals, including staff at diocesan Catholic schools. “With all the research done on mental health, and physical health, the earlier you identify symptoms and stressors, the easier it is to intervene, the simpler the problem,” she said. “Like anything else, problems compound. The longer someone is without the mental health services they need, problems become worse and compounded with other things like substance use, bullying, acting out dangerous risk behaviors.”

She emphasizes the dire crisis befalling youth, and especially adolescents. “Kids today are more stressed out than ever. They’re more anxious than ever. The suicide attempt rates are up. Dying by suicide in young people is also up. So, we involve the schools to make them aware; to let them know what services are available.” Although currently Behavioral Health does not offer services for students per se, they do offer care coordination and a warm hand-off.

“We can help them get connected to people for the care of their young person and that’s the point. It’s very hard to negotiate health care and find the right person. Without the right person they may drop out and we’re trying very hard to minimize that and the difficulty people have when they try to reach the right person.”

Isabel Fernandez, director of Laity, Family and Life at the Diocese of Orlando, met with Galda, and  faith formation and youth teams from around the diocese to talk about mental health. She recognizes the “deep need” for psychiatry and mental health services in parishes. At the February 2023 Faith Formation Conference, her team offered a segment presenting a basic mental health overview and tips for working with children and families in faith formation sessions. When she checked to see who attended and was interested in the topic, “it was full of youth ministers, parish catechetical leaders, veteran, rookie, and they all had serious cases, very concerning events that had happened at faith formation,” she said. “They all had stories, anecdotes and concerns and really wanted the guidance.”

“Psychiatry is hard to come by as it is. To have our Church and Catholic Charities offering that gives people an additional comfort level,” Fernandez added. “It makes people feel comfortable about referring people to get the help they need when it’s coming from an entity you trust. Getting that support and encouragement also helps them see the Church is paying attention to what we need. Telepsychiatry is going to be a real support in a way that is lacking in society.”

Fernandez is encouraging anyone working in a parish to receive mental health training. She is coordinating with Galda to offer special training for those who work professionally in faith formation and youth ministry.

“The needs around that are specific so we want to do the training for adolescents and children and offer those in addition to what Catholic Charities is already doing.”

“We’re called to serve our brothers and sisters,” Galda said. “We are called to serve the poor. We are called to serve with dignity. Genoa Telepsych and Behavioral Health Services really provide an access point for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get that. What that says to me is, Catholic Social Teaching calls us to help our brothers and sisters with humility –respecting them as human beings with intrinsic value because they are created by God.”

She said they offer mental health care because there is still so much stigma around it. Mental health can affect other aspects of one’s life.

“If you’re depressed and you can’t work, eventually you have food instability and housing jeopardy. It’s a cog in a larger wheel. People become traumatized and cannot function. … It can happen to any of us. It is for the grace of God I do what I do. It’s only by a couple of degrees of separation for any one of us. That’s one of the problems in the secular world,” Galda said. “Many think they are above it all. (But) you’re not that different. You got a couple of good breaks while they got a couple of bad ones and made some bad decisions, and there’s a result coming from that, but are we not called to help them, to lend our hand and lift each other up? I think so.

If you are in need of counseling other mental health services, contact (407) 658-1818 (x1069). Catholic Charities of Central Florida’s Behavioral Health Services offers several courses helping to identify signs of mental health and how to respond. Go to their website, to learn more.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, May 11, 2023