Distress Centre sees calls spike due to virus anxiety
Distress Centre Calgary is reporting a rising number of crisis contacts related to COVID-19, including up to a 70 per cent spike in suicide ideation among youth over the past month.
And as students within the public school system face the loss of school psychologists within weeks, officials say the Distress Centre’s case load will continue to grow in the coming months and years, along with the long-term effects of COVID-19.
“By far, COVID -19 is generating a high level of concern with those reaching out to us, and we expect those calls to increase the longer we stay isolated and physically distanced from each other,” said Diane Jones Konihowski, the centre’s director of fund development and communications.
“The most common concerns we’re hearing related to COVID -19 involve anxiety and stress, isolation and loneliness, depression and suicide.”
The centre received its first
Covid-19-related call on Jan. 26, and as of April 28 received more than 37,000 contacts on its 24-hour 211 and crisis lines, daily chat and daily youth texts.
Of those, 5,500 were COVID-19 related. Last week, the centre’s 211 line saw a 94 per cent increase in contacts compared with the same time last year.
Within that spike is a significant rise in youth-related contacts, particularly to the centre’s unique and increasingly popular Connecteen line, which allows youths to connect with staff by voice, chat or text.
During the month of April, Distress Centre received a 70 per cent increase in contacts from teens exhibiting suicide ideation, or teens thinking about or planning suicide, compared with the same month last year.
Teens may be further affected by mental-health concerns later this month as the Calgary Board of Education lays off up to 60 school psychologists May 21.
Educators, parents and psychology experts have warned that students already stressed over COVID-19 will face even deeper struggles if they lose the support of their psychologist.
Dr. Kelly Schwartz, associate professor with School and Applied Child Psychology at the University of Calgary, said that while suicidal ideation is a troubling outcome connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other known risk factors that also lead to increased risk, including mental illness and addictions.
“Suicide can be a very impulsive act with no precipitating or identifiable events,” said Schwartz.
“But with specific reference to the pandemic and the heightened urgent or emergent indicators flagged by the Distress Centre, it may indeed be that a person’s vulnerabilities are magnified by the pandemic experience.”
Schwartz added that higher contact numbers may also indicate that those who feel most desperate during the pandemic are in fact reaching out for professional support.
“It is good that people are realizing they are not alone in their feelings of loneliness and anxiousness and have resources like the Distress Centre who are available to help.”
The high rates of suicide ideation among teens compares with a 21.4 per cent increase in suicide-related contacts from all age groups over the same period last year.
“We are seeing an increase in contacts — calls, chats and texts. And the impact of COVID on mental health, suicide ideation, depression and loneliness will last for many months and years,” said Jones Konihowski, adding that calls have dropped slightly over the past few days as the weather improves and more teens are able to head outside.
Calls on Covid-19-related topics to the 211 line include:
Questions about government
or health information related to COVID -19.
Questions about resources
because they or someone they know has COVID-19.
Unemployment and financial
difficulties due to the pandemic.
Requests to access a particular
■ resource, but can’t due to current restrictions.
Inability to provide referrals ■ because agencies are closed due to COVID-19.
Distress Centre Calgary is also working to expand services over the coming months, even years, as the stress of COVID -19 continues.
“The centre is making sure we have the resources in place to offer the supports our clients need, today and into the next phase of this crisis,” Jones Konihowski said.
“This means increasing our capacity on the lines, because we anticipate that crisis call volumes, chats and texts will increase in May and June. We expect this will continue for many months, if not years.”