Pinellas Co. nonprofit launches a free 'emotional support line' for mental health

Nonprofit is getting 60 calls a day, they want more
Posted at 4:29 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 11:00:20-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Missing milestones. Social distancing. Losing your job.

It's no wonder people all over the world are feeling anxious and stressed in the aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, there's a new tool to help you cope thanks to a partnership between Pinellas County and a Clearwater nonprofit.

The phone lines are open at nonprofit Directions for Living. Right now, 50 counselors are on standby to hear you out. They want to help you cope through your worries and dark thoughts.

They will get the support, the kindness, the compassion and the understanding that they deserve and that they need right now during this time," said President and CEO April Lott.

Lott says folks are calling worried about their jobs.

"You know some of these individuals have lost their jobs that they've had for 10-15 years and overnight they are now without a job," she said.

There's also grief about missing major milestones.

"People can't attend a wedding, can't attend the birth of their new grandchild," explained Lott.

Some people are calling the line to express their inner worries that they may unknowingly have the virus and are spreading it to their loved ones.

Others worry about their ability to stay sober through the trauma and triggers of dealing with this pandemic.

"They're isolating, they're concerned about their sobriety, they're concerned about a relapse with eating disorders and other behavioral disorders," said Lott.

Lott says it's perfectly understandable to be scared.

"In fact, I would say that it would be more abnormal to not have these fears, these anxieties, these feelings whatever they are. I mean they are so normal that I would be concerned if you weren't having those feelings," she said.

She believes the mental health impact from this pandemic may be long-lasting.

"The need for mental health assistance and services will peak probably a year from now after the crisis. I'm really concerned about people who are isolating, I'm concerned about suicide, I'm concerned about thoughts of suicide. I'm certainly concerned about relapse," she said.

Lott says beyond the emotional support line there are things you can do right now to improve your mental health. First, limit your news consumption.

"Don't sit on on media all day because I think it's information overload and it contributes to people feeling alone and overwhelmed," she said.

Also, strive to stay connected with friends virtually and remember to focus on the here and now.

"Stay grounded on today," she said. "As my mother used to say 'don't borrow trouble.'"

Lott says the callers vary across ages and occupations but she has seen an uptick in frontline workers dialing in.

"Law enforcement, Fire Department and EMS, as well as healthcare professionals nurses, you know people who are cleaning hospitals."

Lott herself answered a call from someone in the funeral industry who shared their deep concerns and stresses coming from the job in the midst of this pandemic.

"They can't keep up with making coffins, and the people who are digging graves can't keep up with digging the holes. The funeral homes are the people who have to tell loved ones that they can't have a funeral or that only six people can come," she said.

Directions for Living is receiving approximately 50-60 calls a day but they are capable of answering many more. You can reach a counselor for free at 727-524-4464 extension 1001. They are available seven days a week from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. for free. You'll be prompted to leave a message and a counselor will return your call within two hours.

"Hashtag no shame. This is a no shame moment. We are all in this together," said Lott.