Depression creeps in on your vacation? South Florida clinics now offer mental health help

The holidays can be a joyous time, but they can also be stressful and difficult for people suffering from isolation, sadness, depression and mental health issues. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, clinics, hotlines and mobile units provide resources for anyone who needs immediate mental health help.

In a strip mall in Davie, Memorial Healthcare’s Rebel’s Drop-In Center opened in January and offers support groups, social activities, counseling and peer mentoring seven days a week. It is open even on Christmas and New Year’s days.

“There’s a lot here for depressed or isolated people who don’t want to be home alone,” said Maria Pilar Dominguez, director of Rebel’s Drop-In Center. “There’s even personal peer support.”

Malcolm Butler works on a painting at the Rebels Drop-In Center in Davie. Memorial Healthcares clinic is open to anyone who needs support to manage their mental health issues. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Malcolm Butler knows that his schizophrenia can easily overwhelm him under the pressure of holiday cheers. So on a cool Tuesday afternoon, he paints a white cat on the windowsill with small strokes on the canvas.

Like Butler, people from across Broward County with a variety of mental health issues come to Rebel’s Drop-In Center to attend support groups, participate in arts and crafts, join a yoga class or meet with a counselor.

There’s a men’s support group for those in recession, who don’t have custody of their children during the holidays, or who are deeply bereaved. There is a women’s support group for those who are anxious or feel alone.

More serious help for mental health problems

A back entrance in the same building leads to the Memorial Outpatient Behavioral Health Center, where anyone 15 or older can walk in and receive a mental health evaluation.

“There are people who walk in and need immediate care. We do the intake first and then set them up with an appointment,” explains Claudia Vicencio, director of Memorial Outpatient Behavioral Health. “Once they’re evaluated, we start the service within five to seven days.”

The center has psychiatrists, mental health counselors and basic healthcare services. It also offers esketamine treatments and transcranial magnetic stimulation for adults resistant to depression.

“With the holiday season, we are busier than normal on the clinical side,” Vicencio said. “We see a lot of people walking in.”

But he adds, “This is not for those in immediate crisis.”

For children and young adults under the age of 26, PM Pediatric Behavioral Health in Coral Springs can see a new mental health patient within nearly 72 hours, even during the holidays. Anyone can make an appointment online.

Holidays cause mental health spikes

This time of year, mental health counselors prepare for the so-called holiday blues, a short-term heightened depression. The greater risk is that depression can lead to addiction. In addition, the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with mental health problems reported that their condition worsened during the holidays.

The feeling of loneliness can also get worse during vacation. Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General issued an advisory calling attention to the public health crisis caused by loneliness, isolation and lack of connection. According to the report, adults who report feeling lonely are more than twice as likely to develop depression compared to those who rarely or never feel lonely.

“This time of year, there’s a lot of media attention on family reunions, which increases comparison and increases loneliness for some people,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience and chair of Social Connections and Health. Lab at Brigham Young University. During the SciLine webinar, he stated that anyone can be vulnerable, including young people.

“This is not just for older people … it affects us all,” he said.

211 Crisis counselors at work
211 Broward crisis counselors answer 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline calls. (211 Broward/Courtesy)

Hotlines offer immediate help

In South Florida, wait times for private therapists and psychiatrists can be weeks or even months. However, anyone feeling isolated or struggling with mental health issues can call 2-1-1 in Broward and Palm Beach counties and reach an operator who can direct them to services.

“Our hotline is open 24 hours a day with someone who can talk to you so you know you’re not alone,” said Francisco Isaza, 211 Broward’s operations manager. “We are called by consumers who need support that day. Sometimes they call two or three times in the same day. They may feel lonely or deal with grief. The most important thing we can do is listen to the person’s story and offer emotional support.”

Isaza said 911 centers can refer a caller to therapy, support groups, telehealth services, mobile crisis units or walk-in centers, depending on the situation. “Sometimes just talking to someone who can de-escalate the situation helps them, and emergency services are never needed,” he said.

Anyone in crisis can get help

Anyone in a mental health crisis or suffering from suicidal thoughts in South Florida has options.

They can walk into Henderson’s central intake center in Lauderhill and get help, said Dr. Steven Ronik, CEO of Henderson Behavioral Health, which has services in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Staff at the walk-in center, located at 4720 N. State Road 7, can connect a walk-in patient with a therapist, psychiatrist and other intervention services. They can even check in on a patient for up to 23 hours to stabilize them.

“It’s kind of like urgent behavioral health care,” Ronik said.

Henderson also has a mobile crisis unit that responds to residents wherever they are in an emotional or mental health crisis.

“The purpose is to make sure the person is safe and resolve the crisis,” Ronik said. The crisis team makes an assessment on the spot and, if necessary, can voluntarily or involuntarily take the person to hospital.

Unless there is immediate danger, Ronik advises most people who need help to call 9-8-8, the new mental health and suicide prevention line. Calls are answered by local mental health professionals who can talk to someone about their distress or send a mobile crisis unit to their home if they suspect it is necessary.

“I want to stress to the audience that they don’t have to think about it,” Ronik said. “If they think they’re in trouble, dial those three numbers. It gets them started and the operator has access to whatever else they might need.”

Of course, anyone in crisis can also go to a hospital emergency room. Not every hospital has a mental health professional. But some do, and those that don’t transfer the patient to a hospital with someone on staff.

Dr. Daniel Bober, director of psychiatry at Memorial Regional Hospital, sees adults who come to the emergency room and pose a danger to themselves or others. A youth psychiatrist also works at the hospital.

“For many people, the holidays bring up painful things like addiction, loss, trauma … what they see is an empty seat at the table or a promise that hasn’t been kept or a dream that hasn’t been realized,” he said. “They can become intoxicated and it triggers suicidal thoughts.”

About half of the people who come to the emergency room in a crisis are treated and half go home with a treatment plan, Bober estimates. A patient who is admitted to treatment can be kept for 72 hours. After that, they have to check in as a voluntary entry, he said.

“Often, just time away from the situation itself can be somewhat therapeutic,” Bober said. “They need a place to cool off. Some scenarios may require medication or restraints, and the next morning the patient can very often go home.”

Bober said every hospital’s emergency department needs to see someone in crisis, but if they don’t have the staff, they transfer patients to a hospital that does.

“Western society tells us this is a happy time,” he said. “If you’re in a crisis and you have to decide what to do, you better err on the side of caution and go to the emergency room.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at cgoodman@sunsentinel.com.

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