TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The first time he ended up in the hospital for depression and suicidal thoughts, Matthew Peterson said he was 12 years old. He said he returned at age 17 for an overdose and at 19 for a suicide attempt.
“If I just sit in that time and I isolate,” Peterson said. “For me personally, being alone in own thoughts can be a dangerous place to be.”
Now, the 30-year-old Tampa resident and peer specialist is more than a decade sober. But he still has his challenges.
“I lost my dad very unexpectedly in June,” Peterson explained. “He had a major cardiac event. And so, I had to take off about two weeks.”
His dad was only 59 years old.
“I’ve got suicide attempts in my past,” Peterson said. “So a big, triggering event sent me to that place mentally where I had those thoughts again.”
But the time he took off with permission from his job helped.
“One of the number one things that kept me from acting on those thoughts,” Peterson recalled. “Was connection to other people in my support network.”
Peterson isn’t alone either — a new survey by Tampa Bay Thrives, a local nonprofit focused on improving community mental health, found that more than one out of ten respondents took mental health days off from work during the year.
“There are people who are struggling, who do need help, and they’re getting slightly worse,” said Carrie Zeisse. “That’s what we do not want to see.”
Zeisse is the president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives. She said those missed workdays correspond to more than half a million missed workdays per month, and more than 6 million missed workdays every year across the Tampa Bay Area. That’s 2 million more missed workdays than the survey reported last year.
“It’s a significant number of days that are being missed,” Zeisse said. “And it doesn’t even begin to take into account the days where you show up at work and are just not feeling fully there or able to really focus.”
According to the survey results, the number one barrier to getting mental health care was the cost, along with finding the right provider and the fear of being judged.
Whether you take a day off for mental health or simply don’t get enough sleep that night, Zeisse said it can impact your work.
“If you can’t feel good in your mental health in the moment,” Zeisse said. “It’s hard to show up and perform.”
The numbers don’t surprise Peterson.
“I think a lot of people are walking around, like even everyday people, with these stressors,” Peterson said. “It just piles up to where, you know, they just can’t go into work.”
As for why the survey found such an increase, Zeisse said reasons vary. For younger people, she said social media and school can stress kids, and loneliness can impact older people. She said the pandemic is still having an impact on all groups as well.
If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 211. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 800-273-8255.