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Posted by on in Rachel's Corner

It’s easy to see a cut or skinned knee and you know what to do about that. Basic first aid teaches us to clean the area and place a bandage on it. What do you do when there is an emotional problem? Then what? That answer is not so obvious. There is now an opportunity to assist the public to understand the emotional pain of mental illness and help those who are experiencing symptoms to seek help before it is too late.

1 in 5 Americans has a mental illness and many are reluctant to seek help or might not know where to turn for care. Often the symptoms are difficult to detect – even when friends believe there is something not quite the same about them. They don’t know how to approach the subject. Frequently they are not certain they are seeing what they think they are seeing. Is it a problem or is it just them “being them”?

Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) helps to demystify mental illness and gives participants the ability to better understand what they are seeing in a youth and how to approach the subject in a non-threatening manner. YMHFA is not designed to teach participants to be counselors, but rather to help participants recognize symptoms and assist the individual to get to a trained counselor.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) has only been taught in the United States for five years. To become one of the 2,500 certified trainers in the United States you are required to complete a 40 hour course. MHFA focuses on adults, their symptoms and how to approach and help them. Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach how to help a child or teen that is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse problem or is in crisis. COPE Center has three YMHFA Certified Trainers. They are able to teach educators, first responders, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, employers, business leaders, family members, civic organizations, faith based groups and other organizations who wish to learn how to identify a youth in distress.

The Youth Mental Health First Aid course is an 8 hour course taught by one of COPE Center’s certified instructors. At the completion of the course you will receive a certificate in Youth Mental Health First Aid. For information about the course and to schedule your group, please call Wanda Coley at 892-8290 or dial 2-1-1.

Posted by on in Rachel's Corner

More than a conversation


I have never really been affected by celebrities lives one way or the other; however, Robin Williams was a gifted man who transcended generations. He could make you laugh at anything.  Give him a stick and he would turn it into a ten minute out of control hilarious bit that left you in tears. His death cannot be in vain.Somehow the conversation about depression has to be more than a conversation.There has to be meaning.There has to be movement.  Depression is not a choice.It can be treated.There is hope.There are too many who believe that all depressed people need to do is pull themselves up by their boot straps.When you are depressed you cannot find your boot straps.Everything is distorted and looks bleak.What future you see looks pretty dark. 


Suicide has a similarity to cancer, in that there are few families it has not touched.  My own family included, more than once.  You look back on it when it happens and wonder why did I not see it.  We have to remember those we are charged to serve live with feelings of hopelessness daily, plus the stigma and judgment from the world. 


Big Bend Community Based Care recently completed a needs assessment of the four counties - Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia. In this assessment, Walton County residents were second to Escambia in the average number of days where poor mental health interfered with activities of daily living in the past 30 days.  Walton was first when asked if they had been depressed more than 14 days in the past 30.  In addition, Walton County had a higher age-adjusted suicide rate than Escambia County.  Clearly there has to be more than just a conversation.  We have to make something happen.  We have a lot of work to do yet.  

The last few months have been extremely busy around COPE. We have run the entire gambit of emotions. We fought a battle and lost. We lost two programs. We gained two programs. It's a crazy world in which we live sometimes. As all of you know, because we were not able to secure enough funds from FDOT, we were forced to close our Assisted Living Facility. All of the residents were placed in similar or better facilities than ours or are now living with their families.

Medicaid Managed Care claimed the Comprehensive Assessment program also. For many years we have been the lead agency for ensuring comprehensive assessments for certain children across the region were prepared for DCF and the courts. Those will now be done in each county by their respective community mental health agency.

Because of hard work and community dedication, of Senate President Don Gaetz and House of Representative Member Marti Coley, we received funding for two special appropriations projects this year. We received funding for a Rural Wellness Program to provide a Nurse Care Coordinator to our most medically compromised adult mental health clients. The Rural Wellness Program will provide a RN to coordinate medical and behavioral health care for state funded psychiatric clients who have complicated medical problems that are not managed well. If these conditions are not managed with their primary care physicians the overall costs to the system grow exponentially. Private insurance companies and Medicaid now provide nurse care coordinators for their patients because they recognize the value to the patients.

In addition, we are the pilot rural Community Action Team County for the State. Last year 10 teams were funded and placed in urbanized, highly populated areas. This year the legislature funded another six teams and we are the rural test site. These Community Action Teams will work, as their ultimate goal, to prevent identified adolescents from being admitted to a Baker Act unit multiple times, prevent them from being involved with the DJJ system, keep them in school and help repair the family unit. It's a tall order, but we believe we are building a team to make a difference in the community. We expect these two programs will be another example of COPE Center ~ Renewing Our Community Through Counseling, Care and Compassion.

Tagged in: Family Thank You

Posted by on in Rachel's Corner

There are times when I say that people never cease to amaze me, but on a few occasions I say that for a good reason. Remembering the annual Relay for Life "wee hours" event was one of those times. Team members were there, cheering survivors, and strategizing how they were going to win the dancing and "decorated bra" contest. For the past two years COPE Center has had a highly energized and enthusiastic Relay for Life Team, one that far outshines any we have ever had before. 

When we think about our staff we don't acknowledge enough of their willingness to give to the community. One of the important things COPE Center staff and agency does is be ever vigilant about giving back to the community. The Relay for Life Committee, otherwise known as COPE Crusaders, has worked tirelessly for the past year with fundraisers. If you want it to rain, let the COPE Crusaders have a community Chili Cook-off. Maybe they should hold that for a drought and then they could really make money! It has not gone unnoticed all the long hours of cooking and selling lunches, breakfast and all manner of other activities in which we all gladly participated. 

Let us never forget the husbands that got roped into this venture. They served as cooks, set- up, break down and pack mules. I never heard one of them complain once. They were doing it all for a great cause. 

Cancer is a very vicious disease in which some are able to win a fight over and some not. I do not know a person who has not has someone touched by this disease. We all want it to "just go away." The only way that will happen is for us to keep fighting. My hat is off to the hard working COPE Crusaders and their honorary members for all the hard work you do for this cause and to give back to the community every year. We are all about making something good out of each day. You really did that Friday night! 

You are the best!

Posted by on in Rachel's Corner

I was raised in a household with my father wearing a gun on his hip everyday (he was a law enforcement officer). My husband and I have always had guns in our house while our daughters were growing up. Our three oldest grandsons have been going to the "shooting house" or tree stand almost since they were old enough to walk. Recently my oldest grandson's father missed shooting a deer, and apparently attributed the “miss” to the gun. Later in the day, our oldest grandson used that same rifle and killed two deer. Clearly the gun was not the reason his dad missed the deer. Hunters are competitive and they tend to tease one another when they miss a shot. One of the hunters that day said to my grandson's father "it ain't the gun, son"...... 

The knee jerk response from our political leaders and those who have the illusion more gun laws will prevent another mass casualty are merely trying to take the fastest and easiest way out of this extremely complex social mire. How many times have we said to our clients that their lives did not get into chaos overnight and it cannot be repaired overnight? We have enough laws that address gun controls. Laws really are for law abiding citizens. Those individuals who believe rules do not apply to them will be creative and find ways around them regardless of how many laws there are passed. Then there is the question; what exactly is an assault weapon? A good gunsmith can make most any weapon into a killing instrument. If our Congressional leaders want to appease their conscience and say they did the most they could and pass a law all they are doing is dodging the real problem. The real problem is the constant chopping away of the funding of the mental health system in America and in the State of Florida. The lack of consideration of those with mental illness until something happens is shameful. When it gets to the critical mass, as we are looking at now, we hear from those who make the money decision “where do you start? It will cost so much”. How do you pay for it? Let’s look at some possibilities. There is funding for many things by collecting small percentages of sales taxes of certain items; cigarettes, sale of firearms, liquor, and beer to name a few. Then we have fine and forfeiture for DUI, and court costs for domestic violence charges, etc. There are many offenses that we treat people for that part of their fine goes to fund other agencies within our county. Why not use a very small portion of those funds to help fund our budgets? It’s done every day. It’s time for the mentally ill and substance abuse clients to receive some of this revenue if the local legislatures say they cannot fund us, let us be funded by a user fee. 

Because we know passing another law to have someone violate, be prosecuted and jailed for is not the answer. Because we all really know “It ain’t the gun son.”

Posted by on in Rachel's Corner

What would it feel like to live life in fear?  Fear of being rejected by folks you meet on the street and in the grocery store or your own family is afraid of you – and if that was not bad enough, you have these pesky voices running loose in your head day after day.  Fear that your disability causes others to discount your ability to be a productive part of the community.  Many people with mental illness struggle with these types of fears every day.  Mental illnesses affect ONE in FOUR of us at some point in our lives.  This means we have at least one relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker living with a mental illness and it is just as common as heart disease. 

Like President Bush said, “Americans must understand and send this message:  mental disability is not a scandal – it is an illness.  And like physical illness, it is treatable.” No one is “immune” from mental illness no matter your age, race, religion, income or education level, but if you have a mental illness you can recover.  Recovery is possible.  Only half of people treated for heart disease recover, where 8 out of 10 of folks treated for depression recover.  As a community we need to come together to get rid of this notion that you can’t recover from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, obsessions, phobias or other mental illnesses.  We believe you can recover from alcoholism or diabetes, but fail to give someone with a mental illness the same hope? 

Just like treatment for any physical illnesses or addiction, there are medications to take, activities to avoid and steps to take toward recovery and resiliency.  For Example, if you are diabetic you may find it hard to stay away from sweets, but this is a life change you must make in order to recover.  Whether you have a physical illness or a mental illness all you want is to get well.  The first step is for our community to make mental health a priority by changing our own personal attitudes, dispelling myths about mental illness, and making mental wellness, along with physical wellness, a part of our every day lives.

Rachel Gillis, LCSW, BCD
Chief Executive Officer, COPE Center


850-892-HELP (4357) or 850-267-2220 in South Walton

Walton and Okaloosa County Information & Referral Services Dial 2-1-1