Local medical group to start free mental health help chatline amid coronavirus pandemic

Premiere Medical Associates Care Chatline will begin April 15

When employees at Premiere Medical Associates started doing drive-thru testing two weeks ago, they expected a lot of calls but they said out of the 2,000 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 coronavirus pandemic.

“Eighty percent of those calls were related to mental-health issues,” Roy said. “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 said 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,” Roy said. “They may want to express their fears to someone they don’t know and not worry their families.”

Roy said 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,” Roy said. “And what a fabulous opportunity for our social workers because this is going to change our mental health.”

Roy said the chat line will be up and running on April 15. A number has not been released just yet, but those interested can email corona@pmacare.com.

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.

“Now 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 said during this time of 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," Lee said. “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 said some mental health professionals like her are offering extended hours and even free or reduced fees.

Though therapists aren’t meeting in person, they are using telemedicine and videoconferencing to meet the need as well as using things like Facetime, Skype, and Doxy.me to connect with clients.

Lee said 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," Lee said.

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.
  5. Limit your exposure to news coverage.

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

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