Crisis hotline calls involve panic over coronavirus; officials prepare for uptick despite recent decline

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DENVER (KDVR) — Licensed professional crisis counselors say recent calls to the Colorado Crisis Service and other crisis hotlines pertain mostly to concerns and anxiety about COVID-19. However, while the number of calls increased during the first two weeks of March, calls and texts to the hotline during the last two weeks of March declined by 13 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

HOTLINE: 1-844-493-TALK (8255)

“Staff expects calls and texts to increase after Coloradans have moved into living with school closures and stay-at-home orders, as well as associated financial challenges,” said Lindsay Sandoval, a spokesperson for Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health.

“We are closely monitoring what our crisis services system looks like and how they’re making accommodations in this time of coronavirus,” said Camille Harding, the division director for the state’s community behavioral health department. 

While face-to-face services are still being offered, Harding said many services are now being provided via telehealth. 

For example, mobile response units that would normally respond to someone’s home when they are in crisis are now sometimes delivering an iPad or other tablet to the person’s doorstep and then communicating using that technology from outside the person’s home.

“It’s not ideal, but I think it’s better than a phone if they can see a face,” said Sonny Pickowitz, the manager of crisis services at SummitStone, a behavioral health services provider in Larimer County.

Pickowitz said her office has made other adjustments during the coronavirus pandemic. Staff members now ask health screening questions through an intercom when clients enter the facility. The office also has a new cleaning protocol in which staff disinfects surfaces multiple times a day in addition to the work of a professional cleaning crew.

Her recent calls, meanwhile, have involved a lot of uncertainty. 

“We had some rougher ones last week,” she said. “I think the calls have been more, kind of, fear-based,” she said, describing one call in which a father, who was the sole breadwinner for his family, was concerned about how to make ends meet and how to get help for elderly relatives who live out of state.

Others have called with fears about leaving the house to go for a walk.

“We’re all in this together,” she said. “This isn’t happening to just one person. We’re all kind of experiencing the uncertainty of this and it’s like a day at a time that we’re navigating these uncharted territories.”

Kandace Lucas, a licensed professional counselor for Jefferson Center, said many of her calls have started with panic.

“I’ve had everything from a client who thought that everyone was going to die (to) probably the most often-heard story: we have clients who call who lost their job, are at home, are worried that they can’t pay their rent and don’t have access to the internet because they never paid for internet – it’s not something they could afford,” she said. 

Lucas said she helps guide callers to proper resources and helpful solutions.

“Sometimes we have to help people kind of calm down before we can talk to them about the resources and how to access certain things,” she said. She helps people “get out of their heads.” 

“We are trying to get them to deep-breathe, trying to get them to focus in the moment rather than all of the places that their brains are,” she said.

Lucas said the best advice she gives during this uncertain time is to stay connected.

“I know that…might be easier said than done during times like this, but you need to stay connected with your friends. Stay connected with your family, and if you don’t have those connections, please call us. We’re here, and we’re taking calls all day long. Every person I work with is a licensed professional counselor, and we want to help.”

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, the following are some resources that can help:

Colorado Crisis Services Hotline (1-844-493-8255): If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. When calling Colorado Crisis Services, you will be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master’s or doctoral degree.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): Speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.

The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386): A 24/7 resource for LGBT youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained counselors.

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