TAMPA, Fla. — As more people in the Tampa Bay area seek help for their mental health, new funding in Hillsborough County will expand those services.
The astronomical numbers also seem unreal. But to Carrie Zeisse, the President/CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives, and Meredith Grau, a therapist and Director of Clinical Service for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, the numbers are very real. They live them every day, as more and more people struggle with mental health on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Zeisse, between 2019 and the end of 2021, there was a 664% increase in people seeking screenings for anxiety, a 472% increase in screenings for depression, and a 661% increase in severity.
Additionally, her nonprofit noticed a stark increase in younger patients, many of whom have recently sought help for the first time. While the pandemic itself is a driving force, factors it contributed to — like isolation and economic turmoil — are now cited by many patients who reach out for help.
“We just have been consistently busy the entire pandemic,” said Grau. “And the phone just keeps ringing. There are still more people that need our help and so many services, and there’s this feeling of, you know, ‘Gosh, no matter how hard we work it’s just not hard enough.’”
“We have an amazing mental health system in Hillsborough County. I want to say that we do have excellent resources already available,” added Zeisse. “But the issue is that we don’t have enough, and we have too many people that are suffering.”
Zeisse and Grau, however, are encouraged by a $4 million investment announced last week. BayCare Health System and Hillsborough County approved a 30-month contract that will provide mental and behavioral health services to help those impacted by the pandemic. Of the $4 million, $2 million came from Hillsborough County ARP funds which BayCare matched.
According to Tampa Bay Thrives, the investment will:
• expand a free and confidential 24-hour Let's Talk line for behavioral health support and navigation
• provide short-term counseling that will serve as a bridge to longer-term care
• create a research and awareness campaign focusing on addressing stigma towards mental and behavioral health in Hillsborough County
• conduct an annual survey of county residents regarding mental health and substance abuse and the impact of COVID-19 to identify service gaps and create solution and
• deliver a community-wide marketing campaign focused on reducing the stigma of mental and behavioral health, providing resources, and increasing residents’ knowledge of existing resources
“We need more therapists, we need more therapists working together — and that’s what this project is hopefully going to do is bring community partners together — people in the helping field — so we can serve individuals who are ready to ask for help,” said Grau.
“Why keep doing what I’m doing? Well, because we’re making a difference,” she continued. “So even if we’re making a difference for one person, that’s good.”
There are free resources to help everyone right now:
- In Hillsborough County, call the Crisis Center Of Tampa Bay by dialing 211 at any time or by going to https://www.crisiscenter.com/
- In Hillsborough County, call 833-DIAL-111 for Let’s Talk, a free, 24/7 confidential support line
- In Pinellas County, dial 211 or 727-791-3131 for help
- Nationwide, you can reach the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Florida Veterans Crisis Line: Call 1-844-MYFLVET (1-844-693-5838)