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The impact the unemployment debacle is having on the mental health of Floridians

Posted at 11:17 PM, May 23, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. -- Defeated, frustrated, and drained. Those are words people are using to describe their feelings after trying for months and months to get their unemployment benefits.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has plowed through and paid hundreds of thousands of claims, but hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting.

Some are waiting for the rest of their benefits, but others haven’t received a dime. And it’s wearing on their mental health.

June 1st is around the corner. Rent and other bills are coming due, and these people don’t know what to do.

“It’s become like a full-time job,” said Nikki McKay, who filed for unemployment on March 23rd.

Except Nikki likes her full time job as an Uber driver. This is the full time job she didn’t ask for.

“It’s like a pit in my stomach, and I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I just look up to the sky and I’m like why, God, why,” said McKay.

She filed for unemployment two months ago today. She’s received some money, but much less than she’s owed, and she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“The last five or six days, the emails and messages that I’ve gotten is, ‘nobody will call me back, I’m at my wits end, I want to end it all;’ and when you have a single mom who is telling you that, telling you how ashamed they feel,” said Senator Jason Pizzo, (D) Miami.

Senator Pizzo is spending day 33 in a hotel in Tallahassee, so he can tackle unemployment issues for Floridians in person.

“They’re suffering from cancer, suicidal thoughts, we have military veterans in their 50s and 60s, who served our country and can’t get someone on the phone,” said Pizzo.

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has watched the average length of individual call triple from 6 minutes to 20 minutes amid the pandemic, and the majority of those calls deal with one thing.

“The main reason has been financial assistance,” said Ken Gibson, Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

But regardless of the reason or the length of call, these people want to help you.

“The emotional impact of this crisis is going to be longer-term, it’s going to be over a year,” said Gibson.

If you need to talk to someone, call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has also collaborated with the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network to create a COVID-19 crisis line. You can call 844-MYFL-HLP for help specifically related to COVID-19, whether you’re having suicidal thoughts, or just need to talk with someone.

And if you need help getting through to the Florida DEO, send an email to a state legislator.

“We’re not going home until this is fixed,” said Pizzo.

If you’re among those still waiting on unemployment benefits from the DEO, head to our website, fill out our waiver here, and we’ll be sending your information to the DEO.