The state of mental health for local children

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP - Bay District Schools has been working to address its students' mental health needs.

Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital says they see an average of 36 Baker Acted adolescents a month. (WJHG/WECP)

In recent months, the district began the process of hiring 33 social workers, one for each school, and put an emphasis on mental health education.

With the new state-mandated Mental Health Curriculum in place, we sat down with a local Baker Act coordinator from Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital to find out the true state of mental health for local children.

"I would say that we have seen an increase in the number of Baker Acts that we're getting from the school district," said the Baker Act Coordinator at Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital Allison Carter.

As of Friday, January 10, 161 Bay District School students have been Baker Acted this school year. Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital says they see an average of 36 Baker-Acted adolescents a month.

"Once they get here, they have an assessment with one of our intake specialists, and then they will also have a medical screening, as well. If they meet criteria, within the first 24 hours they'll be seen by a psychiatrist," said Carter.

The criteria involves a few different things, but children don't have to be held for the full 72 hours.

"They do have to be a danger to themselves or others, have a plan, and also have a means to carry out that plan," said Carter.

Local children being Baker Acted has been an ongoing issue for several years, but employees with Emerald Coast Behavioral say Hurricane Michael brought mental health into focus in a way it wasn't before the storm.

"Every year we've seen the number of Baker Acts increase. So, one thing that I would say, is that the silver lining from the hurricane has been that the mental health needs in our community are finally getting the attention that adolescents and kids in our community so desperately need," said Carter.

Emerald Coast Behavioral says most Baker Acted children they see are middle and high school ages and many list Hurricane Michael as a stressor.

If you feel your child is in need of speaking with someone, you can bring your child to Emerald Coast Behavioral Hospital to be assessed and speak with professionals.

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