LUTZ, Fla. (WFLA) —A chorus of “Happy Birthday” filled a room over a cake for a local father, moments before his daughter and son blew out the candles.
But their dad was not there for the March celebration. He died from a drug overdose about two years earlier at the age of 32.
The pain of loss sent his brother’s mental health into a spiral.
“I was also going through a breakup at the time,” he said. “I lost like 60 pounds. It was just the stress. I needed help.”
The low point came last year. As police tried to take him into custody to stop him from hurting himself as part of the Baker Act, he allegedly spit at them and was charged with three felonies.
“I don’t recall spitting on anybody. There’s video evidence of police taking me and slamming my head into the ground,” he said. “And they had me on suicide watch. And that was their form of the Baker Act. “It was horrible. I had anxiety. I needed help. Not in 90 days.””
A more violent incident involving a shortage of mental healthcare help unfolded June 2018 in Tampa. Pedro Aguerreberry was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike with his children.
Only days before Aguerreberry died, the driver of the car that hit him had posted a troubling message on social media.
“I never help a man,” Mikese Morse said in the video. “I’m fixing to kill somebody right now.”
Morse was found not guilty by reason of insanity in March 2021.
Family members told 8 On Your Side he checked himself into a mental health facility before the tragedy but was released. They said they were turned down multiple times when they tried to place him somewhere else.
Mikese Morse in court
The grandmother of the children who missed their dad on his birthday said attempts to get him help were also difficult and frustrating.
“We were finally able to get him medication that helped, but seeing someone was 90 days out,” she said. “Someone that is at risk of hurting themselves, hurting someone else. You need help right away.”
She said the 90-day wait was for providers who took their insurance, but she added there was a six-month wait for private facilities.
Various studies have predicted the shortage will grow in the coming years with the U.S. Department Health projecting a severe shortage by 2025.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the need for help has grown during the three years since the COVID-19 outbreak.
APA cited a survey about the pandemic’s impact that estimated 60% of providers said they cannot take new patients and 72% indicated their waitlists are now longer.