Local medical group to start free care chatline for mental health help amid COVID-19 pandemic

Chatline begins April 15, other therapists also offering free and reduced tele-therapy visits

A man working on his laptop. (Iryna Imago, Shutterstock image)

When Premiere Medical Associates started doing their drive through testing two weeks ago, they expected a lot of calls.

But they say out of the 2 thousand calls they receive each week - a huge portion are from people needing help coping with things like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"We are social beings, we are not meant to isolate," said Susan Roy a licensed clinical social worker for PMA.

Roy is working to get a Care Chatline up and running to help those struggling with all the life changes brought on by the pandemic.

“Eighty percent of those calls were related to mental health issues,” said Roy. “People who are alone, people saying they can’t be with their loved one. When someone got sick and their loved one went to the hospital they had to stay home and the isolation and the loneliness and the isolation was really affecting their mental well being.”

Roy says in this day and age of social distancing, people of young and old are feeling isolated in their own homes. That's what gave them the idea to start the care chat line for the community.

“To give them an opportunity to speak with a live compassionate person, a supportive listener, and in a non-judgmental way,” said Roy. “They may want to express their fears to someone they don’t know and not worry their families.”

Roy says right now they are in the process of training licensed social workers and 10 university social work interns to man the chat lines and have partnered with St. Leos University to offer the free service.

"What better way to meet a community need as well as the university need," said Roy. "And what a fabulous opportunity for our social workers - because this is going to change our mental health."

Roy says the chat line will be up and running on April 15th. Those interested can email corona@pmacare.com or call 1-833-PMA-BLUE.

How other mental health professionals are helping meet the need

Some other Central Florida mental health professionals are also offering free sessions or at least reduced prices for mental health services to those who need it.

"No more than ever, you can get the help you need," said Cloteal Lee, a licensed mental health counselor with the Branch House in Orlando. "People are feeling alone because they can't go out or they think they can't go out."

Lee says during this time uncertainty and social distancing, people need help now more than ever before.

Especially those who are suffering in silence - and especially students who are just now entering the world of distance learning.

“The teenagers are very stressed,” said Lee. "They can’t go to school to see their friends, they can’t go to the movies and hang out like they normally would. This is a good time to ask your teenagers how you are feeling what does this feel like for you and give them some reassurance.

She says some mental health professionals like her are offering extended hours and even free or reduced fees.

And though therapists aren’t meeting in person, they are using telemedicine and videoconferencing to meet the need. And using things like Facetime, Skype, and Doxy.me to connect with clients. Lee says Doxy.me complies with HIPPA regulations.

“And if you don’t have a therapist you can go to Psychology Today and you can search for your specific need,” said Lee.

Mental health professionals like Lee confirm there are things you can do at home to help ease anxieties and stressors caused by the pandemic.

  1. Talk to somebody
  2. Stay connected to friends and family
  3. Remember you are loved
  4. Get outside and unplug. And limit your exposure to news coverage

Lee says studies show just getting outside can help bolster your mood and increase your intake of vitamin D, which helps your overall health.

Above all Lee says don’t ignore your feelings and don’t be afraid to call someone for help.