The call volume has been increasing at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, amid the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Statistics kept by the crisis center reveal that from March 21 through March 27, a total of 1,617 calls came in — with 540 of those being related to COVID-19.
Calls from March 28 to April 3 totaled 1,828, including 704 pandemic-related calls.
“The biggest reason right now is regarding financial assistance, but we also saw a high rate of individuals seeking emotional support, as well,” said Clara Reynolds, the crisis center’s president and CEO.
“And, as you can imagine, you may be calling because you’re worried about your finances, but you can see where that would also have an emotional toll,” Reynolds said.
During the week ending March 27, there were 236 calls involving financial need; during the week ending April 3, the volume of those kind of calls increased to 412.
“Certainly, what we have seen, too, added into this stress over the past week, now Week 2, is adding the home educational requirement that many families are experiencing as well,” Reynolds noted.
“You’ve got one — the stress of the virus. Then you’ve got lockdown, which can add additional stress to households. Then you add people losing their jobs, or seeing their jobs change significantly, i.e., working from home, versus working in an office. Then, you add these children on top of it that have to have some educational stuff at home, as well.
“It is just a soup of stress and anxiety,” Reynolds said.
On top of that, there’s additional stress and anxiety for people who are living in a domestic violence situation, or in a home that’s not stable and steady.
When people call 211 looking for assistance and support, they may be calling in regarding whatever the top issue is at that time, Reynolds said.
But, she added: “it’s always a symptom of bigger problems.”
“Right now, the big symptom is, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to keep this roof over my head. I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family,’” Reynolds said.
“We believe that after we watch the COVID-19 spike and then start to decline — we are going to see an incredible increase in the number of behavioral health calls,” she said.
“People right now are just trying to survive, whatever survival looks like.
“Once we get past it and life returns to this ‘normal’ place, we believe we’re going to see a behavioral health crisis like we’ve never seen before,” she said.
Those mental health needs are likely to come from first responders, who are working 16-hour to 20-hour days. Or, from people who had jobs and don’t have them now, or the jobs they have, have changed.
“It’s going to be this new ‘normal,’ that many of us are not going to know how to manage or navigate,” Reynolds said.
Before COVID-19, she said. “we would spend about 7 minutes on average, with each caller, helping them to talk through what their issues were, so we could really get to the root of a problem.”
Now, it’s taking 15 minutes to 20 minutes.
“There’s so much stress, we’ve got to de-escalate first before we can then get to the root of the problem,” she said.
There’s also a percentage of callers that Reynolds described as “high-need, high-utilizers.”
Those callers may call in as may 200 to 300 times a year, because the crisis center is their outlet, she said.
Typically, a call like that may take 15 minutes to 20 minutes to de-escalate. Now, it’s maybe taking 30 minutes to 45 minutes, Reynolds said.
“So, not only has our call volume increased, but it’s taking us longer to get through each call to make sure that we’re providing a real benefit,” Reynolds said.
Concerns about the pandemic can affect people of all ages, so Reynolds offers this advice on how to talk to children about it.
“I think it’s important for them to understand how they can help because kids are natural helpers. Anything that they can do to feel like they are doing something positive to contribute, will help to lessen their anxiety.”
Teach them about washing their hands, covering their coughs and sneezes, staying 6 feet away from others, she said.
It’s also easy for people to feel socially isolated and miss having contact with family and friends, she said.
She recommends making creative use of technology to bridge gaps, such as holding virtual happy hours.
She said it’s also a great time to journal, express yourself artistically, do coloring sheets, or cook.
At a time when you can’t make in-person connections with your family and friends, it’s a good time to give yourself permission to engage “in more self-care than you normally would,” Reynolds said.
Those in a domestic violence situation should call 911, 211 or The Spring of Tampa. TheSpring.org has resources to help.
Published April 15, 2020