Depression creeping into your vacations? South Florida walk-in clinics now offer mental health help

The holidays can be a time full of joy, but they can also be stressful and difficult for people dealing with isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, walk-in clinics, hotlines and mobile units offer resources for anyone who needs immediate mental health help.

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

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

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

Under the pressure of holiday cheer, Malcolm Butler knows his schizophrenia can easily get the better of him. So on a cool Tuesday afternoon, he painted a white cat on the window sill using small strokes on a canvas.

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

There is a men’s support group for those who are struggling with neglecting their children during the holidays or grieving too much. There is a women’s support group for those who have anxiety or feel alone.

More serious help for mental conditions

The back entrance in the same building leads to the Memorial Outpatient Behavioral Health Center where anyone 15 or older can come in and be evaluated for mental health care.

“There are people who come in and need immediate care. We do the intake first, and then set them up with an appointment,” explained Claudia Vicencio, director of Memorial Outpatient Behavioral Health. “Once they’ve been checked, we’ll start the service in five to seven days.”

The center has psychiatrists, mental health counselors and primary care services. It also offers Esketamine and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatments for older adults struggling with depression.

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

But he added, “It’s not for someone in an immediate crisis.”

For children and young adults up to 26, PM Pediatric Behavioral Health in Coral Springs can see a new patient with a mental health problem almost within 72 hours, even during the holidays. Anyone can make an appointment online.

The holidays bring a mental health flare-up

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

Feelings of sadness can also worsen during the holidays. Earlier this year the US Surgeon General issued an advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection. Among adults, the report says, the risk of developing depression among people who report feeling sad is more than double that of those who rarely or never feel sad.

“This time of year there’s a lot of media attention on families reuniting, and it increases comparison and it increases sadness for some people,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, and director of Social Connection and Health. Lab at Brigham Young University. Speaking in a SciLine webinar, he noted that anyone can be injured, including young people.

“It’s not unique to older ages … it affects us all,” he said.

211 Crisis Counselor at work
A crisis counselor at 211 Broward answers calls to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. (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 who feels isolated or suffering from a mental health concern can call 2-1-1 in Broward and Palm Beach counties and contact a responder who can direct them to services.

“Our call line is staffed 24 hours a day so you know you’re not alone,” said Francisco Isaza, chief operations officer for 211 Broward. “Consumers call us who just need support that day. Sometimes they will call two or three times in the same day. They may be feeling sad or dealing with sadness. The most important thing we can do is listen to the story someone and provide emotional support.”

Isaza said responders may refer the 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 defuse the situation helps that person, and emergency crisis services are not needed,” he said.

Anyone in crisis can get help

Anyone in a mental health crisis or overcome with suicidal thoughts in South Florida has options.

They can go to Henderson’s Centralized Receiving Center in Lauderhill and ask for 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 at 4720 N. State Road 7 can connect walk-in patients with a therapist, psychiatrist and other intervention services. They can still check in patients for up to 23 hours to stabilize them.

“It’s like an urgent care for behavioral health,” Ronik said.

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

“The goal is to make sure the person is safe and resolve the crisis,” Ronik said. The crisis intervention team conducts an on-site evaluation, and if necessary the person can be taken voluntarily or involuntarily for inpatient hospitalization.

Unless there is immediate danger, Ronik advises most people in need to start with a call to 9-8-8, a new mental health and suicide prevention hotline. Phone calls are answered by local mental health professionals who can talk someone through their distress or send a mobile crisis unit to their home if they suspect it is needed.

“I want to emphasize for the public that they don’t have to think about it,” Ronik said. “If they think they have a problem, dial those three digits. This will get them started, and the answering professional will be able to access what else may be needed.”

Of course, anyone in crisis can also go to a hospital emergency department. Not all hospitals have a mental health professional on staff. But some do, and those that don’t may transfer the patient to a staffed hospital.

Dr. Daniel Bober, chief of psychiatry at Memorial Regional Hospital, sees adults who come to the emergency room and present a danger to themselves or others. The hospital also has a youth psychiatrist on staff.

“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 not kept, or a dream not fulfilled,” he said. . “They may be intoxicated and it causes suicidal thoughts.”

About half of the people who come to the emergency department in crisis are admitted and half go home with a plan of care, Bober estimated. An admitted patient may be held for up to 72 hours. After that, they must sign in as a voluntary admission, he said.

“Often, time away from the situation itself can be quite therapeutic,” says Bober. “They need a place to cool off. Some situations may require medication or restraint, and by the next morning, very often the patient can go home.”

Bober said every hospital emergency department should see someone in crisis, but if they don’t have professionals on staff, they will transfer patients to a hospital that does.

“Western society tells us it’s a happy time,” he said. “If you’re in crisis and have to decide what to do, you’re better off erring on the side of caution and going to the ER.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at

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