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MHA of Palm Beach County: More funding could help mental health crisis

Posted at 8:42 PM, Nov 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-06 20:42:43-05

President Donald Trump said in his opinion that the Texas tragedy isn't a "guns situation" but instead "a mental health problem at the highest level."

One local mental health leader was quick to disagree.

"People who do terroristic acts have kind of been emboldened by all the other tragedies before it and all the persuasive social media that is coming out from terrorists," said Pam Gionfroddo, the director of the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County. "And it's almost becoming numbing in our communities. I do think these things can be prevented. I think people who isolate themselves and don't have any exposure to positive influences are more susceptible to being influenced by a terrorist communication."

We sat down with Gionfroddo, who actually lived in Texas for 30 years in Austin, which is just north of the town where Sunday's deadly mass shooting occurred. She has friends who lost loved ones.

"I always hate hearing about another tragedy," she said. "It hits us all hard, but we've been hit hard over and over and over again."

She says while mental health plays a part in these tragedies, it’s not the only factor.

"It bothers me that people refer to mental health as though it's something 'bad'," she said. "If our policy makers had kept their promises after each and every one of these tragedies and put more funding into preventive services that would help people not isolate themselves in their homes and be susceptible to terrorist communications and help them make better decisions, then we might be able to prevent some of these tragedies."

West Palm Beach has a mental health support center called Peer Place, but its services require money to stay afloat.

Click here for a list of programs and services offered by the MHA.

Gionfroddo believes the issue boils down to the lack of government funding available to help diagnosis and treat people with mental illness.

"For any nonprofit or any organization providing mental health services, it's a struggle to make ends meet. We're constantly competing for scarce dollars that rarely exist," she said.

Nationally, mental health funding has been dramatically reduced over the years. Across the nation, between the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and 2008, $4.6 billion dollars of mental health services were removed from the budget.

"The government is dealing with limited dollars and that's because this has not been a priority at the federal and state level. And therefore it trickles down to next to no money at the local level," she said.

It's a trend Gionfroddo hopes will change following this tragedy.

"My hope is that we can put more dollars, both nationally and locally, into preventative services that help all people that need help - whether they have a mental illness or a substance abuse problem -- or they're beginning to have terrorist thoughts. They should be able to talk about what they're thinking and get the help they need," she said.

However, there is some good news this week for Palm Beach County. On Tuesday, the MHA is set to receive money from a national grant award to help fund a new mental health program at local hospitals.

The association also has an upcoming My Life program this November 15, which specifically targets area youth with mental health and substance abuse problems. Click here for more information.

The county also runs a hotline number to call for mental health emergencies, that number is 561-801-HELP.