Great strides made in awareness and resources for children’s mental health


Scott Spiezle & Susan Goldy at the Kids’ Minds Matter press conference on Nov. 13, 2018

Between a global pandemic and the state of our nation, 2020 has proven to be a year to remember for everyone.

But for us, our reasons for remembering this year look more like a glass half full. Before everything began to shut down in March, Kids’ Minds Matter’s Secret Garden Gala raised a record $2.8 million dollars for efforts to improve the mental and behavioral health resources for Southwest Florida children, particularly the large population on Medicaid or without insurance coverage.

We founded Kids’ Minds Matter in 2016 to highlight the critical shortage of services available for an estimated 46,000 local children struggling with mental and behavioral health issues and to enable Lee Health to provide these services. This time just two years ago, we were celebrating Kids’ Minds Matter’s recognition as Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital’s official solution to the mental healthcare crisis in Southwest Florida with a commitment to raise $10 million to bring partners and providers together, and to increase access to lifesaving programs and treatment for local children and their families. In early 2020, we met that goal with the help of generous and concerned donors in the community.

In the past five years, we have made great strides to support the mental well-being of children and families in our region. We have collaborated with Lee and Collier School systems, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Southwestern State College, and other mental health providers and organizations to develop strategic and collaborative roadmaps to provide comprehensive mental healthcare for our children.

The mental and behavioral health team at Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital has grown from five to 29, including five psychologists, four developmental pediatricians, four mental health navigators in Southwest Florida schools, three pediatric psychiatrists, two mental health counselors, three autism navigators, two licensed clinical social workers and one family therapist. In addition to building the team, community and professional programs, classes for children, parents, students and first responders and awareness have increased substantially.

None of this progress would have happened so swiftly and strategically without the partnership of our community advocates and donors. We cannot say enough how grateful we are for every dollar that has been donated, every opportunity to speak at events that we’ve been given, every ‘share’ on social media of content related to children’s mental health, and every kind word we’ve heard along this journey. Each person has made a lasting impact on our lives, but more importantly the lives of the children and families in need of care in our community.

And while together we have made great progress, our work isn’t complete.

COVID-19’s impact on families and long-distance education is predicted to have long-term mental health implications well beyond the pandemic. With new and existing mental health issues within families being highlighted during quarantines we implemented Mental Health Mondays, a Facebook Live series that provides mental health resources and suggestions for addressing mental health issues for children and families. In less than 8 months, we have reached more than 1 million viewers from across our region, state and country – evidence of the need as people are looking for information to help their children who are struggling with isolation and pandemic-related life changes.

The good news: With ongoing awareness and additional resources, we’ve seen a 1,000+% increase in pediatric mental health visits from 6,980 in 2017 to 16,103 as of September 2020. Adding providers allowed us to reduce the wait time for children and families needing appointments. Together, we have also helped reduce the prejudice surrounding mental health issues, and our educational programs and collaborations have helped people become more aware of the signs of mental health changes so children can receive help before a crisis occurs!

Why our efforts need to continue: Our awareness efforts, coupled with the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic, have resulted in an influx of families searching for care. Thus, wait times to see pediatric mental health providers range anywhere from 9-12 months. The need is great and we do not have time on our side. We need to continue to add and train more providers and to provide greater access within our community to mental health centers as quickly as possible. We cannot do this without you.

Won’t you join us in working to continue to improve mental health services for area children? The kids need us now more than ever.

Susan Goldy and Scott Spiezle
Kids’ Minds Matter Founders