Tampa Bay Thrives is launching a new navigation support line in Hillsborough County called “Let’s Talk.”
A new program by Tampa Bay Thrives will act as a free, 24/7 navigation support line for residents in Hillsborough County to receive assistance with mental health or substance use issues.
The group officially launched Let’s Talk on July 19 and has seen a steady increase in its call volume ever since as locals learn the new service is available. Members of the community can call 1-833-Dial-111 (833-342-5111) and talk to a clinically trained counselor for free. The counselors can then offer guidance, make a referral to local providers and provide connections to peer support.
“We were founded in 2019 by a coalition of leaders who are in various positions across the four county region including healthcare, schools, local government, law enforcement, providers and private employers,” Carrie Zeisse, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives, said. “They all came together with the idea that despite doing really excellent work across the region people are still falling through the gaps. So this is a continuation of that work. Shortly after this organization started was COVID and a big part of that first year was spent doing planning so what we did was we staffed up and built the organization. As we continued to convene these leaders and ask the question of, does the original priority that was established still hold and then we looked out to the community and we talked to people and surveyed people and we kind of assessed the landscape to determine where the gaps were and we see this as a gap filler.”
Zeisse said they are starting the program in Hillsborough County and hope to soon expand. The counselor who answers the phone will ask the caller a few questions, like if the person calling is doing so for themselves or someone else as well as some questions to establish a brief background on where the person is in their life that would have led to the call.
From there they access a data base that is continually being built out in the county and can help the caller determine where to go based on if they have insurance and what their concern is at the moment.
“For a lot of people with mild to moderate issues, things that are just beginning to come to the floor or they’re not sure about how a loved one is doing, people who are not at the crisis end, who are not feeling suicidal symptoms, but are kind of before that, it can be very challenging to get help,” Zeisse said. “Some of the results we saw in our surveys were that 85 percent of individuals who had insurance said they weren’t quite sure where to start when they were ready to see someone. It can be a lot of information to wade through.”
The counselor can give the caller a referral somewhere that they’ve helped determine would be a good fit and then they follow up to make sure that they were able to get through to the right outlet. It’s all about helping people take that first step in “engaging in their journey to feel better,” according to Zeisse. The organization said the initiative could not have launched at a better time.
Throughout the course of the last year and a half, mental health related challenges have increased rapidly across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from August 2020 to February 2020 there was an “increase in the proportion of adults reporting recent symptoms of anxiety or depression from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent. To compare, in 2019 the CDC found that only “4.7 percent of adults aged 18 years or older reported regular feelings of depression and 11.2 percent reported regular feelings of worry, nervousness or anxiety.”
Zeisse said the past 20 months of an ongoing pandemic paired with job uncertainty, loss of loved ones and rapidly evolving health updates has left many strained. She said the goal is to help people feel better, earlier, and to prevent local residents from getting worse. Mental health is the same as every other area of wellbeing and if you don’t take care of it, it can lead to serious problems.
The free support line is confidential — as long as the caller is not in any danger of hurting themselves or others — and will hopefully be the initial step in strengthening access to mental health programs throughout the area. Zeisse said Florida ranks “very low in terms of access to behavioral health” and Let’s Talk aims to streamline the process of connecting people to established organizations that could offer aid.
The group sends out surveys three weeks after callers reach out to assess the success of the referrals and aid. The program launched approximately a month ago so much of that data is not yet back, but Zeisse said the number of calls they’ve received is steadily increasing.