Dis­tress Cen­tre sees calls spike due to virus anx­i­ety

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - EVA FER­GU­SON efer­gu­son@post­media.com

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.”

Kelly Schwartz

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