The year 2020 was rough sailing for Jared. Following isolation from schoolmates and teachers during the summer of 2020, Jared hit a low point. The fresh-faced, normally academically focused young man has struggled with anxiety his entire life. Fortunately, the high school teen found a port in the storm thanks to mental health counseling from House of Mercy and Encouragement (HOME).
Like many teens forced indoors by COVID-19, Jared became withdrawn, losing enthusiasm for activities he once enjoyed. “I lost my motivation to exercise and go outside and spent entire days in bed looking at my phone,” he said — adding that as an only child with working parents, he struggled to adapt to the isolation.
I did not want to stay home. I want to go to school and not forget how to make friends. Jared, a HOME mental health counseling patient.
“I feel like 2020 is over, so we should treat 2021 like a fresh start, but the unfortunate part of optimism is that it does not always work out like that,” said Jared, who views his weekly therapy sessions at HOME as a safe harbor to express his feelings and ease his anxiety. With encouragement from his parents, Jared started counseling at HOME in elementary school, so remaining mentally healthy has been a lifelong commitment.
HOME is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of children, ages 2 through adolescence, who are experiencing emotional difficulties, behavioral issues, learning challenges, or social problems. Its mission is to serve as a faith-based provider of mental health and learning services for children and their families without regard to color, race, religion, or socioeconomic status.
Jared’s therapist is Dolores Mortimer, founder of HOME, who has master’s degrees in mental health counseling and learning disabilities. She has been Jared’s therapist most of his life. While he said his parents “pick me up when I am sad,” he added that the professional counseling he gets at HOME has been his mainstay.
Once in middle school, thinking he had aged out of the program, he discovered he missed his HOME sessions, especially his therapist. “I am used to Dolores, and I had grown attached to the place, and that attachment is therapy in itself — a safe haven,” he said.
Jared sees “virtual learning as a struggle because you are glued to the same seat all day.” He said the school’s challenges with online teaching technology further worsened it. “I did not want to stay home. I want to go to school and not forget how to make friends.”
Dolores said anxiety goes hand-in-hand with depression, and she and her staff have seen an uptick in depression from children and families throughout Pinellas County.
“Children who normally do well in school can be overwhelmed with online school and often shut down,” she said.
A $52,000 PCF grant from the Pinellas Cares Nonprofit Partnership Fund allowed HOME counselors to continue seeing children and families at its Dunedin location during part of the COVID-19 shutdown. The funds helped hire additional counselors, add technology for online sessions, and provide sanitizing supplies to adhere to CDC safety standards.
While Jared received online counseling this past year, he will eventually be able to return to in-person counseling sessions, and he has already returned to in-person schooling. For more information, visit the House of Mercy and Encouragement website.