Pandemic creates challenges for those needing, providing mental health help

Counselors also feeling stress as pandemic continues

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in calls to suicide hotlines and other mental health services, and has created unique challenges not only for those making the calls, but the counselors who answer them.

For one thing, Provident Behavioral Health crisis services department supervisor Jessie Vance says counselors don't have all the tools they usually use to help callers available to them.

"We normally are able to help people process what's going on and talk about ways they can cope," she says, "and they can't do the things they used to be able to do because of so many COVID restrictions."

So instead of suggesting going somewhere they like, they're brainstorming to provide clients with something that may not produce the same feeling, but will help them cope.

They're also having to rely on virtual counseling sessions, which some clients don't like.

"They want to meet in person" Vance says. "They don't feel the same level of connection through Zoom. It's just not the same."

Then there's the long wait times to get an appointment. Vance says some services are no longer taking new clients and those that are have long waiting lists. It could be months before someone calling today, can talk with a counselor.

"It hurts. It feels like a rejection," she says. "They finally decide 'okay, I'm going to do it. I'm going to get therapy, even though I don't like the idea of it.' Then they call and they hear, 'It'll be a four month wait.' It just feels like a gut punch."

And, for the first time, Vance says counselors are feeling many of the same fears as the callers.

"They're resilient people. They've been very helpful on the phone." In fact, she says, it may help them communicate with the people they're counseling. "They are able to have a lot of easy conversations about how scary this is, how unpredictable this is. Whereas, they're conversations when they aren't experiencing the same things are still great, but it's been very fluid to talk with people about COVID being scary."

Vance is encouraging those who need help, to get it. For immediate help call 1-800-273-8255 or 314-647-4357.

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