Crisis Hotlines Offer Glimpse Of Mental Health In The Pandemic : Shots
Health

Crisis Hotlines Offer Glimpse Of Mental Health In The Pandemic : Shots

A spike in texts and calls to crisis hotlines reflects Americans’ growing anxiety about the coronavirus and its impact on their lives.

Richard Bailey/Getty Images

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Richard Bailey/Getty Images

A spike in texts and calls to crisis hotlines reflects Americans’ growing anxiety about the coronavirus and its impact on their lives.

Richard Bailey/Getty Images

Normally, Laura Mayer helps the most acutely suicidal callers find the nearest hospital emergency room. But in a pandemic, that has become a crisis counselor’s advice of last resort.

“It’s a difficult decision because we do know that by sending them into an overburdened health care system, they may or may not get the treatment that they need,” says Mayer, who is director of PRS CrisisLink in Oakton, Va., which also takes calls for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “The resources may or may not be there, and we’re exposing them to the illness.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Text the Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 in the U.S. and Canada.

Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264.

So instead, counselors are devoting more time to each caller, offering ad hoc therapy and coaxing them to talk through their pain. These days, that pain often has many sources: lost jobs, severed relationships and sick family.

“The type of call and the seriousness of the call is very different this year than it was in previous years,” Mayer says. “There’s environmental issues, internal issues, family issues. … It’s never one thing.”

America’s crisis centers and hotlines are themselves in crisis. As people grapple with fear, loneliness and grief, on a grand scale, those stresses are showing up at crisis hotlines. Not only are the needs greater, but their clients’ problems are more acute and complex and offer a window into the emotional struggles Americans face.

Across the board, hotlines of all kinds are reporting increases in volume.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration saw a fivefold increase at its National Helpline in March. The Crisis Text Line says its volumes are up 40% in the pandemic, to about 100,000 conversations a month.

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