Crisis Line Awareness week lands during COVID-19 concerns while call volume increases

Crisis Line Awareness Week this year runs from March 23 to 27, and happens to come amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Interior Crisis Line Network says that their increase in call volume amidst the outbreak illustrates the importance of the service.

“We thought we would be celebrating our record number of calls last year with over 23,000 support contacts and 300,000 minutes of support. Instead we are ramping up with ‘all hands on deck’ to support the influx of concerns,” said Asha Croggon, program director for the Interior Crisis Line.

This service provides eveidence-based de-escalation, short-term emotional support, suicide prevention and intervention to people throughout the Interior Region and get, on average, a call every 20 minutes. With the high levels of anxiety and concern surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, their calls are increasing.

“People are impacted with the unknowns around COVID-19 such as the stress of being quarantined. Plus the other issues in life that prompt someone to call the crisis line don’t go away when there is a global health crisis and may even become worse because of it,” said Heather Silvester, manager of the Williams Lake site.

The Network’s volunteers and staff are still coming in for their shifts in communities like Cranbrook, Kelowna, Trail, Vernon and Williams Lake. Increased measures are being made to ensure their safety while answering the increasing number of calls and chat service.

“Their commitment and care for the people of this entire region is a real source of hope during uncertain times,” said Natalie Hake, manager with the Cranbrook site.

An estimated 40 per cent of calls received in the past week were coronavirus-related, according to Trail site coordinator Sheila Dudek.

“The good news is people are reaching out for support as their community services are closing and our people are answering all the calls they can,” Dudek said.

The fact that instead of having one central location from which they operate, which could become compromised, the Interior Crisis Line Network works out of multiple branches, built on a network of partner agencies.

They are also looking into other ways to keep their lines open as call volume increases and their staff and volunteers are impacted by the crisis.

“Support from the community so far has been wonderful,” said Michelle Nelmes, coordinator for the Kelowna site. “We’ve had people calling to see if they can help out on the lines which reflects the heart of the communities we serve.”

Crisis Line responders need to complete a full screening as well as over 40 hours of training and mentoring before they can begin their work. This means that although the general public isn’t able to help by fielding calls, there are other ways they can support the service.

This includes simply being patient if unable to immediately get through to a responder when calling, or if calls are shorter than usual. The Interior Crisis Line, like many other service providers, is impacted by heavy call volume and telecommunication issues, and ask callers to be patient.

If struggling to get through with a non-emergency call, they ask that you pause and try again later, and if it is an emergency, call 911.

Another way the community at large can help, they suggest, is by reaching out to one another, and that “social distancing doesn’t mean isolation”, and a quick phone call with someone you think might be struggling can make a big difference.

“We’ve all experienced the power of really being heard by someone who isn’t trying to fix us, is willing to listen, ask questions and remind us that, for the most part, we know the answers,” said Vernon site manager Alyssa Christmas.

The network recommends investing in consistent self-care practises, especially during times of crisis and uncertainty. They suggest taking breaks from media, including social media, and committing to getting your information from recognized sources only.

The Interior Crisis Line can be reached by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-888-353-227 (CARE) or by online chat Thursdays through Sundays 5 to 9 p.m. at www.interiorcrisisline.com.

It is a network made up of the five local crisis lines in the Interior Region and is funded by the Interior Health Authority. Interested in volunteering, go to interiorcrisisline.com or call 1.250.426.5222, ext 3063.

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