Partnership expands Hillsborough mental health services

TAMPA — Florida ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to residents’ access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America.

The problem is also local: The pandemic has led to a 600% increase in the number of Hillsborough County residents being screened for anxiety and a 472% increase in screenings for depression, according to the nonprofit group. Mental Health Tampa Bay Thrives.

The result is that patients who need urgent psychiatric care caregivers often wait months for help, increasing the risk to their mental well-being.

Tampa Bay Thrives is trying to help bridge the gap between calling for help and therapy through partnering with hospitals and other agencies by making mental health services available within days to people identified as urgent cases.

The services include:

  • Telecounselling for people facing long waits for help provided by the Tampa Bay Crisis Center and the University of South Florida Department of Psychiatry.
  • Same-day telehealth access to a mental health clinician at AdventHealth Express Care at 10 Walgreens locations in Tampa Bay.
  • Referral to a licensed counselor at the Tampa General Hospital Urgent Care Clinic at Water Street in downtown Tampa.
  • Access to a licensed clinical social worker at the Northside Behavioral Health Center by the USF Tampa campus.

These services are accessible through Tampa Bay Thrives’ free and confidential helpline called Let’s Talk at 844-YOU-OKAY (844-968-6529), which launched in July 2021. CEO Carrie Zeisse said that from many callers were seeking help for the first time. encounter difficulties get assessed by a professional, often leaving them feeling outmoded.

“We’re opening up more options for individuals to get short-term help,” Zeisse said. “We want to make sure you stay stable and don’t get divorced while you wait for care.”

Related: Climate change also affects mental health. Call it eco-anxiety.

The partnership, announced at a press conference on Tuesday, includes BayCare, Tampa General Hospital, HCA Healthcare and AdventHealth, all major competitors in the Tampa Bay healthcare market. Baycare, the Bay Area’s largest behavioral health provider, is also opening a new 24-bed behavioral health unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital North in Lutz, said Gail Ryder, vice president of behavioral health.

The Hillsborough County Commission in February approved spending $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 relief funds for mental health services for residents. BayCare said it matched the county’s spending with a $1.9 million donation. Ryder said even before the pandemic, the Tampa Bay area struggled to provide enough mental health services. The pandemic has only exacerbated this problem.

“We have unprecedented suicides and overdoses in our community,” she said. “We need to get people to seek help earlier, so they don’t get really sick.”

Related: Tampa Bay first responders open up on frontline mental toll

The Mental Health America study which ranked Florida 49th in the United States for access to mental health care is based on access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, access to specialized education and the availability of the mental health workforce. Alabama and Texas were the only two states rank lower in a study of all 50 states and Washington DC

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About 64% of adults in Florida who have been diagnosed with a mental illness — about 1.8 million people — are not receiving treatment, the study found.

The extent of the mental health crisis was evident in screenings conducted by AdventHealth at primary health care centers in Tampa and Henderson, North Carolina. Of 107,000 patients, 7,000 met the criteria to receive more care and 2,000 are currently receiving care, said senior executive John Johannessen. manager of non-acute services for the West Florida division of AdventHealth.

Related: Tampa Bay college students get online mental health resource

• • •

Need help?

The Tampa Bay Thrives Let’s Talk Helpline can be reached at 844-YOU-OKAY (844-968-6529).

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the Tampa Bay Crisis Center by dialing 211 or visiting You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or online using; or chat with someone online at

Veterans can call the Tampa Bay Crisis Center Veteran Support Hotline at 1-844-693-5838 or visit The National Veterans Helpline can provide help around the clock by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, texting 838255 or via online chat on

About Evelyn C. Heim

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