Inside look at 2-1-1 Big Bend

Published: Jan. 31, 2019 at 10:32 PM EST
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By: Abby Walton | WCTV Eyewitness News

January 31, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The government shutdown. Hurricane Michael. Keeping your kids safe at school. Real-life issues that impact so many of us. Those, along with so many other things we face every day, can take a toll on our mental health. But, help is out there.

"Helpline 211. This is Christine."


Three numbers keeping phones ringing 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

"So you called today because you're interested in getting some food pantries.”

Part of their mission is connecting people with information for things like food, utilities and rent assistance.

But, when you dial 211, you're also guaranteed something more.

"I can definitely look that up for you. And is there anything that happened that has you interested in finding these food pantries?"

Simple questions often sparking emotional conversations.

"If we don't ask, they're not going to start talking," Carrie Tyree said.

And Tyree knows first-hand.

"I actually called the hotline in January 1994,” she said.

Now, she's the director of hotline programs.

But at the time, Tyree was a young wife, mother and newly disabled after breaking her neck in an accident.

"At the time, I was not mobile. I couldn't drive," Tyree said.

She was just looking for transportation assistance, But Tyree says what happened next changed her forever.

"She said, 'How does it feel to transition from being fit, mobile and independent to needing to ask for help and it was just the flood gates opened?'" she remembered.

That empathetic touch, Carrie said, is what makes 211 so special.

Volunteers and staff undergo extensive training to go beyond a caller's initial need.

"We're getting very disconnected as a society. Social media does not connect us and make us fulfilled and so we get a lot of calls from people that are lonely," Tyree said.

Or dealing with anxiety, depression, even thoughts of suicide. 211 taking calls from people of all ages and walks of life including a growing group 11-to-14-year-olds.

"We have a lot of young people that call and say my friend mentioned this and I'm afraid to talk to my mom about it,” Tyree said.

Hotline supervisor Katie Kliner is hopeful a rise in young callers means some of the stigmas are fading around mental health.

"Mental health is just as important as physical health. It doesn't mean that you have a weakness or there's something wrong with you,” Kliner said.

But it does mean you should talk to someone.

"We have more people than ever that are going through huge stresses," Tyree said.

She knows what that feels like.

But she also knows the relief from calling. Knowing that with every phone ring, there is someone who is willing to not only help, but also listen.