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Where Hurricane Ian survivors can get free mental health help

Stress, anxiety and depression-like symptoms are common after disasters, federal officials say.
Julie Walton hugs her granddaughter Nyah VanHoose in front of the house where they rode out Hurricane Ian on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022 in Bonita Beach.
Julie Walton hugs her granddaughter Nyah VanHoose in front of the house where they rode out Hurricane Ian on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022 in Bonita Beach. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 30

Lives upended. Businesses destroyed. Homes vaporized and belongings lost to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Ian has decimated Southwest Florida with astonishing damage between Port Charlotte and Naples. At least 21 are dead, though officials believe the toll will grow.

As recovery efforts begin and the search continues for survivors, Floridians grappling with the catastrophe may need trauma counseling and emotional support.

Stress, anxiety and depression-like symptoms are common after disasters, according to federal officials.

Here are free mental health hotlines that people can call for help.

Related: Lee County beachfront resident compares Hurricane Ian experience to horror movie

If you’re in a disaster zone

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a free 24/7 crisis counseling helpline for people involved in disasters, including hurricanes and tropical storms.

People can call or text 1-800-985-5990, and Spanish speakers can press 2 for help in that language. Third-party interpretation services are available for more than 100 other languages.

Trained counselors answer the hotline. They offer confidential counseling, coping tips, advice on how to recognize distress and referrals to local crisis call centers for follow-up care. Callers don’t need to give identifying information to get help.

People can call for themselves or on behalf of others. The helpline is open to anyone, including survivors, first responders, and family and friends of victims.

Calling 211 is another free option for emotional support, said Ken Gibson, spokesperson for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit.

Related: ‘I’m hoping he shows up’: Pine Island community grapples with Ian’s aftermath

If someone has suicidal thoughts

Those contemplating suicide or who are in a mental health crisis can call or text 988, which is the national suicide prevention lifeline. They can also use an online chat tool to reach the lifeline: 988lifeline.org/chat.

Family, friends and bystanders can contact 988 on behalf of others.

Crisis counselors listen, offer confidential support and direct callers to local resources on suicide prevention or mental health.

“There’s no crisis too big, and there’s no crisis too little,” said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which answers lifeline calls. “In that moment in time, if you are struggling and you don’t know where to turn, please know you can turn to 988.”

Related: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how

If first responders need help

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay answers a free mental health helpline for first responders and their loved ones. The program focuses on Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

People receive confidential support by calling 1-866-435-4376 (1-866-4FL-HERO).

Firefighters, police officers, emergency care providers and other first responders can also reach the program via a web form at lasttoask.com.

Related: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims

• • •

Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage

HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.

TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath

WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.

POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.

WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?

WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.

SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen quickly after Hurricane Ian passes? It depends.

MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

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