By Mark Ellis —
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in L.A. is one of three centers in the nation that takes calls on a suicide hotline as well a national Disaster Distress Helpline 24-7 to help victims of natural and man-made disasters deal with emotional and mental health issues.
To handle calls the center has 70 full time staff members and 215 volunteers. In February, they took 22 calls on their suicide and disaster help lines related to the COVID-19 health crisis, according to a report by the Orange County Register.
In March, their call volume jumped to 1,800 calls — more than an 8,000% increase!
Job losses and isolation has led many to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated those feelings in people. If things felt bad before, they can really feel hopeless in today’s environment,” Carolyn Levitan, director of the crisis line, told the Register.
One woman in her 90s that called the crisis line did not eat or drink water all day on Easter because she was upset about not being able to go to church or see her friends and family.
“I talk to them about what they can do today to take care of themselves,” Levitan said.
The Center, which operates 10 locations in L.A. and Orange counties, is hiring and training more staff members to answer the calls.
Riverside County’s crisis and suicide help line also has felt an increase in calls, Rebecca Antillon, told the Register. “We’ve also seen a complexity of calls — individuals experiencing economic stress, social isolation and increases in domestic violence or abuse. At the same time, there is a decrease in access to community and religious support.”
With people unable to gather at church for worship and fellowship on Sundays – and other days of the week – the problem is magnified.
Many teenagers are struggling emotionally, according to Michelle Carlson, executive director of Teen Line, an L.A.-based national and international help line for teens.
“In this environment, family relationships is the number one reason youth are contacting us,” she said. “Young people are experiencing huge increases in stress, anxiety and loneliness. We’re also seeing a significant increase in child abuse reports. It’s very concerning.”
Teen Line is taking calls from as far away as India, Australia and South Africa, she said. “The most important thing right now is to approach your kids with empathy,” Carlson told the Register. “They are dealing with their own losses — not being able to see friends or participate in school events like sports, prom or graduation. This time is not normal and it’s OK to acknowledge that.”
The suffering is so universal that even the counselors taking the calls are experiencing the same kinds of worries and anxieties as their callers, Levitan noted.
“We see people are burning through their savings, losing jobs and becoming more isolated,” Levitan said. “We are taking the necessary steps to make sure we’re there for people when they need us the most
At Laura’s House, the domestic violence prevention hotline in Orange County, calls surged 40% starting the week of March 22nd, and have been rising ever since, Greg Young, clinical director, told the Register. “The last two years have been quite busy,” he said. “But I don’t recall a sudden jump like this.”
Domestic violence calls to the Orange County sheriff’s office for the four-week period ended April 13 were up about 25% from a year earlier, according to Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.
Barnes said that calls related to family disputes rose 24% during the same period, and that his department had taken eight calls for child abuse, compared with three during the same time in 2019.
Barnes said that he is “concerned about the adverse effect these stay-at-home orders have on those in the shadows who are vulnerable to domestic violence or child abuse.”
At the end of March, Women’s Transitional Living Center in Orange County had taken 132 reports of domestic violence, more than double the number it tracked last year.