Mental Health is Community Health

On June 8th, the County Commission will be making its decision on incorporating Sarasota as a mental health taxing district – effectively providing concentrated funding for a system that is long overdue for funding…and concentration.

HOW WE GOT HERE

In 2019, Commissioner Mike Moran introduced the idea of levying taxes to create specific funding for mental health in Sarasota. In April 2020, Covid-19 forced attention elsewhere, away from the idea of a referendum on the 2020 ballot for community members to cast their vote towards a community-funded system. Fear that discussing increased taxes at a time when many were losing their jobs and income fairly and understandably delayed the conversation. But now, we are reeling from the effects of a pandemic and the gaps in our system have never been more clear:

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT

According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute, Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states in funding of mental health services. 

And “only half of the children in Sarasota County with a mental health condition received any treatment during the previous 12 months, according to a 2018 University of South Florida study commissioned by the Charles & Margery Barancik and Gulf Coast Community Foundations”, as reported by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. According to this study, “Untreated mental illness in children and young adults can devastate individuals and destroy their families. Its impact also extends throughout our community, costing us all dearly. A new study put that economic cost at $86 million a year here in Sarasota County.”

So we are already paying for the adverse effects of untreated mental health with our personal tax dollars, and worse, we are gambling with the futures our children and society – and seeing a negative return on those tax dollars.

The trauma that comes with an unfunded mental health system is so blatantly displayed, it would be funny if it weren’t devastating. We know through research around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) that childhood trauma is directly correlated with negative, physical health outcomes as adults…which further burdens our medical community in terms of cost and epidemics.

We also know that untreated mental health issues are directly correlated with the criminal justice system, the homelessness system, worker productivity, suicide, and the education system. For example, over 50% of students with untreated emotional and behavioral health issues over 14 drop out of high school. A study out of Northeastern University found that each individual high school dropout costs taxpayers $292,000 through the course of their lives, with about half of all high school drop outs relying on public assistance. I am no mathematician, so I won’t be doing that math.

I am no economist either, but if we invest less of our tax dollars in prevention instead of more of our tax dollars in the consequences of underfunded support systems, we are not only being fiscally conservative, but taking a progressive approach that results in significantly better outcomes for all.

Is that a win, win or what?!

WHAT WE NEED TO DO

Lucky for us, there is a next step we can – and must – take. Today, take a few minutes from your day and email our County Commissioners to let them know that you support a mental health taxing district. This means that homeowners would see an incredibly small increase in their taxes, but together, we’d all see a huge difference. The proposed “a tenth of a mill would amount to a tax of $20 on a home with a taxable value of $200,000. It would raise an estimated $3.9 million annually. 

As the Herald points out, “it is beyond debate”, but if you need some talking/email points – then consider reading this article with some quick facts or a recent op-ed from local community leader, Teri Hansen who heart-wrenchingly reminds us that “the time to act is now.”

So now, pull up your email, and send one message to five commissioners at commissioners@scgov.net. Let them know why this matters to you and how your life would be impacted if a coordinated, empathetic, and community-driven mental health system existed. Or – what it’s like now without one.

With almost $4,000,000/year to serve our youth, our vulnerable, and our aging… It’s a small price to pay – so really, how could we afford not to?

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