TAMPA — Florida ranks 49th in the nation in providing residents access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America.
The problem is also local: The pandemic has led to a 600 percent increase in the number of Hillsborough County residents being screened for anxiety and a 472 percent rise in screenings for depression, according to mental health nonprofit group Tampa Bay Thrives.
The result is that patients who need urgent psychiatric care often wait months for help, increasing the risk to their mental wellbeing.
Tampa Bay Thrives is trying to help bridge the gap between calling for help and getting therapy through a partnership with hospitals and other agencies by making mental health services available within days for those identified as urgent cases.
The services include:
- Telecounseling for individuals who face long waits for help provided through the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and the University of South Florida’s Department of Psychiatry.
- Same-day telehealth access to a mental health clinician at AdventHealth Express Care at 10 Walgreens locations across Tampa Bay.
- Referral to a licensed counselor at Tampa General Hospital’s Urgent Care clinic at Water Street in downtown Tampa.
- Access to a licensed clinical social worker at Northside Behavioral Health Center by the USF Tampa campus.
Those services can be accessed through Tampa Bay Thrives’ free and confidential helpline called Let’s Talk at 844-YOU-OKAY (844-968-6529), which was launched in July 2021. CEO Carrie Zeisse said many callers seeking help for the first time experience difficulty getting evaluated by a professional, often leaving them feeling overwhelmed.
“We are opening up more options for individuals to get help in the short term,” Zeisse said. “We want to make sure that you stay stable and you don’t divorce while you’re waiting for care.”
The partnership, announced at a Tuesday news conference, includes BayCare, Tampa General Hospital, HCA Healthcare and AdventHealth, all major competitors in Tampa Bay’s health care market. BayCare, the largest behavioral health provider in the bay area, is also opening a new behavioral health unit with 24 beds at St. Joseph’s Hospital North in Lutz, said Gail Ryder, vice president of behavioral health.
The Hillsborough County Commission in February approved spending $1.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on mental health services for residents. BayCare said it has matched the county’s spending with a $1.9 million donation. Ryder said even before the pandemic, the Tampa Bay region was struggling to provide enough mental health services. The pandemic has only exacerbated that problem.
“We have unprecedented suicides and overdoses in our community,” she said. “We must get people to reach out for help earlier, so they don’t get really sick.”
The Mental Health America study that ranked Florida 49th in the U.S. in access to mental health care is based on access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, access to special education, and mental health workforce availability. Alabama and Texas were the only two states to rank lower in a study that looked at all 50 states and Washington D.C.
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About 64 percent of Florida adults who have been diagnosed with a mental illness — about 1.8 million people — do not receive treatment, the study found.
The extent of the mental health crisis was evident in screenings conducted by AdventHealth at primary health care locations in Tampa and Henderson, N.C. Of 107,000 patients, 7,000 met the criteria to receive more care and 2,000 are currently getting care, said John Johannessen, senior executive officer of Non-Acute Services in AdventHealth’s West Florida Division.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com. You can also reach out to the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or online using crisistextline.org; or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Veterans can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s veteran support hotline at 1-844-693-5838 or visit myflvet.com. The National Veteran Crisis Hotline can provide help 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, texting 838255 or via online chat at veteranscrisisline.net.