SOUTH SHORE – Victims of rape, sexual assault and physical abuse or those with suicidal thoughts have confidential, professional help at their fingertips by dialing 2-1-1.
Last year 106,000 Hillsborough County residents reached out to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Of those calls 2,600 were from South Shore residents with pleas for help ranging from emotional, physical and psychological neglect to a need to end their lives.
“We’re a very specialized, trauma-focused center and the only certified rape center in the county,” said Sandy McLaughlin, vice president of development. “We try to find the root cause of their stress (such as financial issues, child neglect, death in the family) and work with them to guide them out their immediate crisis.”
Even those with suicidal thoughts can be helped.
“At the end of the day most people are trying to end a situation, not their lives,” said Kelli Deaton, center suicide prevention coordinator.
According to the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition, suicide is the ninth leading source of death in the state. And Florida Department of Health statistics report that Hillsborough County has the fifth highest rate of suicide in the state.
Likewise rape and sexual assaults are high. In 2014, 420 were reported in Hillsborough County. The two issues alone are enough to keep the crisis center busy.
“We work very closely with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department on cases when the Baker Act may be required,” McLaughlin said. “And if a rape victim goes to the hospital, we are there to help them cope.”
Since 1972 the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay has received more than three million calls. The private, nonprofit center receives all of its funding from the state, county and private donations.
The ages of callers are as diverse as the reasons they call.
“Our youngest call for help last year came from a 10 year old,” said Brandee Baker, peer support program director. “We also received a call from a World War II veteran who was grieving over the death of his wife. We go where the mindset of the caller is.”
The Crisis Center staff receives extensive training. After their first 30 days, employees simply answer the phones and transfer calls to an appropriate counselor. Six months later, after extensive supervision, they’re ready to handle calls themselves. Counselors also include experienced military veterans who can relate to PTST and other service-related issues.
“We’re a backup for the Veterans’ Administration crisis hotline,” Deaton said. “We get their overflow and take calls from anybody for anything. There are 4,000 resources in our database to help answer any questions for help that may come our way.”
Married to a Marine veteran who served fours tours in Iraq, Deaton is well aware of the trauma vets face when they return home.
“I’m very interested in the program,” said Deaton who has a bachelor’s degree in child development and family relations and spent 20 years in social work. “I had to go to counseling with my husband when he returned from Iraq and recognize the value it has for families.”
The center provides follow up care for callers in crisis. It’s not just a one-call service. Coordinators make back up calls to check on the progress of callers.
“(Follow-up) is completely caller driven,” Baker said. “If they say don’t call again, we don’t. But we’re always there for them if they change their minds and need additional support.”
The crisis center has a daily program to help gauge the stress of the counselors, who average one to two years on the phones. Those stress levels vary depending on the intensity of the callers’ situations.
The center is equipped with a TV, games and other stress relievers for use between calls as part of the program designed to care for the emotional health of employees.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s community outreach efforts provide programs and training at health fairs throughout the county, work with area caregivers and present educational talks and seminars at local schools and clubs. Twice a month public tours of the facility are provided.
The Crisis Center, One Crisis Center Plaza, Tampa, is manned around the clock 365 days a year.
Freelance writer Dosi Loverro can be reached at [email protected]