My Cause My Cleats: Working to help those who need urgent behavioral health services

By Steve Smith Sr., NFL Analyst

When a person is dealing with a physical ailment and needs help, they can typically head to an urgent care center or the emergency room at any time, night or day. But when a person is battling a mental health crisis, there are often fewer places to go outside of office hours — if there is anywhere at all.

Our Steve Smith Family Foundation — which I founded with my wife, Angie, in 2013 — has worked hard over the last two years to change that in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. And during the unboxing of my personalized cleats for the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative prior to Week 13’s Thursday Night Football game, I briefly touched on our newest initiative: the Smith Family Behavioral Health Urgent Care, which will open in early 2023.

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Smith Family Wellness Center, created to provide primary care and counseling services to uninsured, underinsured and low-income families, had an incredibly high volume of counseling services hours documented. We experienced firsthand how great the need was for additional resources when it came to mental health. The foundation was eventually approached by Mecklenburg County and asked if our wellness center could expand counseling services. What was supposed to be a 30-minute breakfast meeting turned into a two-and-a-half-hour strategy session that kicked off a tireless effort to get this facility off the ground.

Smith Family BHUC will be Mecklenburg County’s first non-hospital facility for people experiencing urgent behavioral health needs, and services will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The facility will serve as a diversion from emergency departments, which currently are the only around-the-clock resource in the county but most often are not the appropriate place to get help. Services that will be provided at our facility include:

  • Rapid assessment/diagnostic screening
  • Short-term evaluation, stabilization and referral
  • Medication evaluation, start and referral
  • Brief crisis counseling
  • Referral mental health and substance abuse outpatient treatment
  • Peer support coordination with other community resources
  • Discharge planning and referral to community-based providers and other resources for follow-up care
This has been a complex endeavor with many different layers and one that’s required countless hours of work — including purchasing and renovating a building, meeting extensively with county, city and community providers and organizations for collaboration, and even taking tours of various other mental health facilities. The existence of the Smith Family BHUC will be possible thanks to our foundation, Mecklenburg County, Alliance Health and our operator, Daymark Recovery Services, a statewide provider of mental health and substance use disorder services. Daymark Recovery Services in Winston-Salem — north of Charlotte — was one of two facilities I toured early on in this process. The other was Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health, which I visited during my time at the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland. Both experiences shifted my perspective and helped me better understand the nuances of opening a facility of this nature.

It really hits home for me as someone who lives with depression, a journey I shared publicly in 2018, and with my mother being a survivor of domestic violence. Since opening up about my own experience, I’ve received an outpouring of support, and this facility allows me to hopefully provide the same for others, especially those without the financial stability to get help. I recently went through the process of seeking new health insurance and discovered not every provider covers mental health services. Fortunately, I have the financial means to obtain the care I need, but what about those who don’t? To see this facility come together over the last two years and knowing how it will help marginalized communities and those impacted by mental health is simply amazing.

The facility is the third major project taken on by our foundation, alongside the Smith Family After School Enrichment Program, which provides support to students in kindergarten through fifth grade facing barriers related to education, and the Smith Family Wellness Center, which is undergoing renovations and will reopen in April to serve uninsured community members with primary care, dental care and some behavioral health services.

I arrived in Charlotte more than two decades ago as the Carolina Panthers’ third-round draft pick in 2001, and the organization and community welcomed a young Utah Ute from Los Angeles with open arms. They gave me so much then and still do today. It’s why my family established our foundation, and it’s why we’ve continued to expand and serve the community that has served us.

Follow Steve Smith Sr. on Twitter.

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major