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Health News Florida

Hillsborough gets an influx of $4 million to expand mental health services

The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for people to access to mental health care.
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The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for people to access to mental health care.

The county commission approved $1.99 million, which will be matched by BayCare Health System to improve mental health services in the Hillsborough.

Hillsborough County residents will have more access to mental health services thanks to $1.99 million in funding recently approved by commissioners.

The County will contract with Tampa Bay Thrives and the investment will be matched from BayCare Health System for a total of nearly $4 million.

The money comes at a time when it is desperately needed, advocates say. Florida has a history of problems with access to mental health services and the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for people to get care, said Carrie Zeisse, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives.

“Florida ranks in the bottom in the nation in terms of access to behavioral health, for a variety of reasons.” Zeisse said. “And in our specific region, what we found is that over the course of the pandemic, people got even worse.”

Tampa Bay Thrives found that among those who suffer from mental health issues, two-thirds reported feeling worse during the pandemic, Zeisse said. And the coronavirus restrictions made it more difficult for them to access care, she said.

Caregivers also suffered at a higher rate and many were in need of mental health support, she said.

“So that's created a real moment in time, where the county is coming forward and being matched by BayCare funds.” she said. “It's tremendously important for the mental health of our community.”

A 2021 report from Mental Health America ranked Florida 48th in the nation in providing access to mental health care.

The $2 million from Hillsborough County comes from $285 million the county received through the American Rescue Plan, and will be distributed through August 2024.

Most of the money will be used to expand Tampa Bay Thrives’ 24-hour helpline called, “Let’s Talk.” Counselors who answer the phones help determine the level of care callers need and match them with services.

“It’s not a crisis line,” Zeisse said. “It’s meant to be a line for guidance, support and coaching as you’re trying to figure out your mental health journey.”

The line is free and confidential to anyone seeking services.

In addition to the talk line, the Zeisse says the company will use the funding for the following:

  • Provide short-term counseling to serve as a bridge to longer-term care
  • Create a research and awareness campaign focused 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 solutions
  • 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 want to make sure that we expand options for our community,” Zeisse said.

The three main goals are to improve access and navigation and destigmatize mental health, she said.

“It is really important that we demystify mental health and that we talk about our mental health with the same ease that we talk about our physical health,” Zeisse said. “It's just as important to our ability to navigate life and to reach our potential.”

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