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A recent survey finds more Tampa Bay area residents are missing work for mental health needs

Woman sits at a desk in front of a laptop and holds her head in her hands distressed.
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Not only are more people missing work for their mental health, they're also staying out for longer periods of time, the survey found.

The Tampa Bay Thrives survey found mental health challenges are affecting residents' productivity and attendance at work. But stigma about mental health appears to be decreasing.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, you can dial the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for help.

Nearly seven in 10 residents in the greater Tampa Bay region say they've experienced at least one poor mental health day in the last month, according to a recent study from the coalition Tampa Bay Thrives. Those mental health challenges are leading more people to miss work.

The group’s second annual resident mental health reportsurveyed 700 residents in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties during April and May of this year.

When asked whether a mental health or emotional condition caused them to miss work in the last 30 days, 14% of respondents answered yes, up from 10% the previous year. The average time away from work rose as well, up from three days to four.

Based on the region’s population, Tampa Bay Thrives CEO Carrie Zeisse estimates that could translate to nearly 525,000 missed workdays a month and approximately 6.3 million missed workdays per year.

“And that doesn't include the other things that go along with it, when we asked people what other things they were struggling with," said Zeisse. "They weren't sleeping well, they're not able to focus at work. So we’re concerned about that trend.”

It’s important for employers to talk openly about mental health with workers so staff feel comfortable asking for help, said Zeisse, who also recommends they offer employee assistance programs. These can include counseling services, wellness education or other supports.

“That parental relationship and comfort in talking about mental health is a critical pathway for that young person to say, ‘You know what, I'm struggling and I need to find some help, and I know that I've got a safe environment in which to do that."
Tampa Bay Thrives CEO Carrie Zeisse

More people are talking about mental health, but barriers remain

In addition to the survey, Tampa Bay Thrives and the University of South Florida’s Mental Health Law and Policy Department conducted focus groupswith community members throughout 2022 and 2023 to learn more about perceptions of mental health needs within the region.

One positive finding, Zeisse said, is that stigma about mental health appears to be decreasing. The report finds more Tampa Bay area residents are turning to family and friends for mental health support, and fewer residents listed a lack of knowledge about how to get help as a barrier to support.

But there’s more work to do, Zeisse said.

For example, the survey asked parents whether they talk about mental health with their kids. Roughly one-third of respondents said they’re not comfortable doing that.

“That parental relationship and comfort in talking about mental health is a critical pathway for that young person to say, ‘You know what, I'm struggling and I need to find some help, and I know that I've got a safe environment in which to do that,’” Zeisse said.

Other barriers to mental health care remain. Residents cited cost as their top concern for the second year. Other challenges include experiencing long waits to get appointments and being wary that mental health professionals could relate to them.

Ways to get help

Tampa Bay Thrives operates a free support line called Let's Talk Tampa Bay, which offers residents who need someone to talk to emotional aid.

Specialists can connect residents with local mental health providers for appointments or get them into “bridge counseling,” which is short-term assistance available for people facing long waits for their first appointment. They can also help people find immediate care appointments at local hospitals and will conduct follow-up calls.

If you’re in need of mental health support you can call 844-YOU-OKAY or find resources on the Let’s Talk website.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide you can dial 988 for 24/7 assistance, or call 211 for other mental health crises.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.