OC Register: Suicide, help hotline calls soar in Southern California over coronavirus anxieties
Orange County Register / April 19, 2020
When Carolyn Levitan answered the phone, she heard the voice of a man having a full-blown anxiety attack about possibly having contracted coronavirus.
He was speaking rapidly. He was worried he had it, and feared giving it to family members. He wondered if it would be alright for him to pet his dog. And then he worried about dying and leaving behind family because he knew others who had died from the virus.
These are the types of panic-stricken calls Levitan has been taking as crisis line director at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Los Angeles. Didi Hirsch is one of three centers in the nation that takes calls on the suicide hotline as well the national Disaster Distress Helpline that operates around the clock to help victims of natural and man-made disasters deal with emotional and mental health issues.
In February, Levitan and her colleagues — 70 full-time staff members and 215 volunteers — took 22 calls on the suicide and disaster helplines related to coronavirus. In March, that number soared to 1,800 calls — more than an 8,000% increase.
What’s even more concerning is that a lot of the callers were already having suicidal thoughts, Levitan said.
“Suicidal thoughts stem from a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, or lack of plans or goals for the future,” she said. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated those feelings in people. If things felt bad before, they can really feel hopeless in today’s environment.”
Levitan said she was able to calm down the anxious man who called about a week ago by getting him to “focus on the here and now,” as she does with others in a similar predicament. Like the woman in her 90s who hadn’t eaten or drank water all day because she was upset about not being able to go to church on Easter Sunday or see her friends and family.
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