Nikki Fried declares May Mental Health Awareness Month
Nikki Fried at the Suncoast Center declares May Mental Health Awareness Month. Image via Kelly Hayes.

Nikki Fried
'You do not need to suffer in silence.'

While in Pinellas County Thursday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried stopped by a St. Petersburg-based mental health facility to present a proclamation establishing May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Florida.

“It’s been a difficult year for many people across our state and across the country,” Fried said. “And it was especially harder for those who already had mental health issues, and the pandemic really exacerbated a lot of those.” 

Fried presented the proclamation to the workers at Suncoast Center Inc. on behalf of the Florida Cabinet, designating May as a month to address often overlooked concerns about mental health.

“Now, more than ever, we’ve got to do this together,” Fried said. “You do not need to suffer in silence. This is a deadly killer if you do not recognize it and ask for that help.”

Last year, the center served more than 28,000 individuals by providing mental health services, and it currently employs just under 300 staff members, said Kristin Mathre, the center’s Chief Operating Officer.

“The increasing … mental health needs, behavioral health needs, and frankly, just coping skill needs, is all throughout our nation and our local community,” Mathre said. “We are so proud to be able to serve the folks that are coming for help, and we want to encourage everyone who needs help to reach out for help.”

While presenting the proclamation, Fried noted the strain the pandemic has put on the mental health of farmers and agricultural workers.

“When I first took office, we knew the impact in general on our farming community across the country — it was actually one of my first issues that I wanted to come in and tackle,” Fried said.

One of the Commissioner’s goals was to create a telehealth app to provide farmers with access to mental health services, she said, but found that many farmers lack broadband, creating more challenges to reach the agricultural community. 

“That’s what we’re working on, because we know the emphasis that we need to have on people that we can’t always touch every single day,” Fried said. “And unfortunately, during 2020, that escalated the situation as well — so many of our farmers being by themselves and losing so much of their profit and not knowing what the future will hold.”

Fried also emphasized mental health among veterans, especially as Memorial Day approaches.

“We are about to celebrate Memorial Day, and as we were just discussing that so many of our veterans are experiencing PTSD,” Fried said. “It was taboo for many, many generations and many years. And so being able to talk about it and to show them that there are people here that are wanting to help and to make a difference will help save lives.”

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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