Tampa Bay Thrives utilizes community partners to improve mental health

Mental illness costs the economy about $200 billion in lost earnings yearly. Normalizing conversations about mental health is becoming a more, and more, important factor in running a business, especially if you’re in a leadership position.

According to  Tampa Bay Thrives’ 2023 Resident Mental Health Study, 14% of respondents (a 4% increase over the previous year), reported missing work due to a mental or emotional condition, and the typical employee missed four days per month. This corresponds to a loss of 524,500 workdays, per month, or 6.3 million workdays, per year, a significant increase from 2022.

Tampa Bay Thrives is the local affiliate of Mental Health America (MHA), a national organization advancing the mental health and well-being of all people living in the U.S.  

Carrie Zeisse

One of the pillars of what Tampa Bay Thrives is emphasizes mental health in the workplace through programs like MHA’s Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health. 

“Research shows that when leaders are comfortable talking about mental health, it helps their staff. According to Employee Benefit News, 88% of employees feel more comfortable identifying their own needs when their leaders are vulnerable and open about their mental health,” says Carrie Zeisse, president and chief executive officer of Tampa Bay Thrives. “There’s a real role for leaders to play here and also one for the benefits and human resources teams to think about.” 

This year, Tampa Bay Thrives is partnering with companies including The Mosaic Company, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, and Polk County Board of County Commissioners, to guide them on their journey to becoming Bell Seal certified.  The Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health is a national certification program recognizing employers committed to creating mentally healthy workplaces.

The founding of Tampa Bay Thrives goes back to a group of community leaders who posed the question, “Why aren’t people getting better?” 

With their support, Tampa Bay Thrives began to take form in 2018.

“Leaders from BayCare Health System looked at the data from a community health assessment and noticed that despite strong programs in place and significant investment in mental health, residents in Tampa Bay were still experiencing high levels of mental health pressures. ,” Zeisse says. “This made them first turn internally, and then externally, to pose the question, ‘Why aren’t people getting better and what can we do to help our community heal?’” 

Baycare brought together a group of leaders including Tampa General, Advent Health, HCA Healthcare, Florida Blue, Raymond James, Mosaic, local government, school districts, public safety, and behavioral health providers, that committed to two full days of planning to determine an innovative way to move ahead. 

“They looked at communities across the country who had success in generating momentum in mental health and sought to understand what made those programs successful. They also evaluated the local landscape to identify the top priorities and needs, and to determine the operating model for this new venture. ” Zeisse explains. 

The result was the creation of a separate 501c3, dedicated to being a convener and thought partner. This organization, which would become Tampa Bay Thrives, would evaluate the landscape and bring the community together to work together on increasing access to services, easing the challenge of navigating the system, and decreasing the stigma associated with seeking care for mental health. 

Originally founded as the West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition, the first project launched was the Let’s Talk navigation line and Immediate Care access program, which has helped over 5,000 individuals with phone based support and referrals, and provided direct connection to almost 600 behavioral health urgent care appointments. 

Today, Tampa Bay Thrives has engaged over 1,000 individuals, youth, parents, teachers, and providers in an effort to understand and support children’s mental health and will convene stakeholders and leaders to build a transformational approach in 2024, Zeisse says.

“We are taking a flexible approach to support existing programs and connect resources to deliver a comprehensive framework for school aged children and the adults that surround them.” Zeisse says. “And this approach needs CEOs, employers, and business leaders to join the effort, as parents are impacted by the mental health challenges of their children.” 

“May, Mental Health Awareness Month, is a big month for us. You’ll notice Tampa Bay landmarks like Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Old City Hall, and more lighting up green, shining for the color of mental health. We’d love to see photos of the city glowing in green showing up in social media posts to show overall support,” she says. 

June is Men’s Mental Health Awareness month, and we know that men are typically more reserved in talking about this issue. Dave Mishkin, the Tampa Bay Lightning radio announcer has written a book called “Blind Squirrel” which highlights this issue. We’ll be hosting a special author talk on June 13th and would welcome others interested in joining us. ♦

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