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‘Let’s Talk Tampa Bay’ helpline seeks to aid Hillsborough, Pasco residents with mental health

With accessibility in mind, the service also offers consultation with licensed counselors in several languages.

The helpline assists people in Hillsborough and Pasco counties with starting the conversation around mental health and seeking help when it's needed.

A Tampa Bay nonprofit is working to break the stigma around mental health issues in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, one call at a time.

In partnership with Vibrant Emotional Health, a nonprofit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Tampa Bay Thrives launched “Let’s Talk Tampa Bay” in July — a free, 24/7 confidential helpline to individuals seeking guidance when dealing with mental health issues.

Let's Talk (is) really meant to be a very easy way to start that conversation around mental health,” said Tampa Bay Thrives President and CEO Carrie Zeisse.

She said the helpline serves as a bridge for people experiencing mild or moderate mental health issues to get the help and resources they need in the early stages of their journey.

With accessibility in mind, the service also offers consultation with licensed counselors in several languages.

“Our goal is really to answer every call within 30 seconds,” Zeisse said. “(Vibrant) has enough staff (and) access to language translation services so whatever language someone (is) speaking, they can connect someone to a counselor who can translate for them.”

Individuals can call (833) DIAL-111 to get in touch with a counselor.

When an individual places a call, Vibrant will connect them to a clinically trained counselor who will evaluate their status and get to know them better. The counselor will propose the next steps after the first call, which can include a referral to a therapist and techniques to help the patient while waiting for either an in-person or telehealth appointment with licensed therapists across the region.

Conversations could last around 20-30 minutes, Zeisse said. The counselors will ask questions in hopes to find the right resources for their case. After the call, each patient will receive an email with referrals and ways to cope with mental health.

If uninsured, counselors will refer patients to community health organizations with options to schedule behavioral health appointments.

“There are lots of great providers that offer low cost or no-cost options for people who qualify,” Zeisse said.

The Tampa-based service is currently available to residents of Hillsborough and Pasco counties as the program works with therapists in those areas. While there are plans to expand it to Pinellas and Polk counties in 2022, Zeisse said the helpline is also available to individuals from other regions who are looking for mental health resources.

“We said that we were going to take the first six months to learn and see what the volume is like and how much there really is in the community before we think about planning for expansion more broadly, but we're actively looking at that and talking about it at our leadership level and our board meetings,” Zeisse said.

Some of the helpline’s partners include Baycare, HCA, Tampa General Hospital and Advent Health, as well as community providers like the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and Suncoast Center of Pinellas.

While there are other support lines available, Zeisse said she hopes Let’s Talk Tampa Bay serves as an entry point for some in getting help.

“There is a whole ecosystem of support lines that already exist, including 211 and 911. Those are for increasing levels of urgency or need, this call line is meant to truly be the first step, it's before you get into a crisis,” Zeisse said. “We want to try to help people where they are before they get worse so that we can lessen the need on the acute side when someone doesn't get help at the right time.”

As the initiative grows and expands, Zeisse said she wants people to know that help is one call away and they should reach out if they want guidance navigating their own mental health journey.

“(Let’s Talk Tampa Bay) tries to really normalize that it's okay to not be okay,” she said.

“We just want to normalize that we want to let people know, it's okay to have bad days and to tell people that you don’t feel good and that you can reach out for help and feel better.”

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Leda Alvim