As the coronavirus pandemic continues into the summer, so does the mental health crisis that comes from both the trauma of those directly affected by Covid-19 and the fear and isolation of those under lockdown.
The motto of the Long Island Crisis Center is “any problem, any time, any one” and the agency has adhered to it by continuing to provide all of its suicide prevention and crisis intervention services.
According to Executive Director Theresa Buhse, the agency closed its Bellmore office on March 14. Roughly seven counselors have continued answering calls from their homes and about four counselors are on the overnight shift.
Last week, they began polling their 70 volunteers to enlist more counselors to work from home answering calls. They also began re-trainings and briefings on Zoom to bring the volunteers back to speed on the coronavirus and the resources the LICC has to deal with it.
The agency hopes to bring in new counselors for virtual training in July or August. And in September, they hope to be back on their office with additional health and safety measures.
“We have several different hotlines and have been answering them around the clock,” Buhse said. “We haven’t missed a beat when it comes to answering the calls.”
According to Buhse, roughly 80 percent of the center’s calls specifically mention Covid-19 and even those that don’t involve callers who have lost their traditional coping mechanisms because of the lockdown.
Some callers are sequestered with their families and can’t escape, others are triggered by wearing a mask and others are unable to attend the support groups that have been a lifeline for their recovery.
“Although it feels like this has been going on forever, it hasn’t,” Buhse said. “There’s progress being made every day. Things are opening up and the basics are available. It’s not easy, but we try to help them see what they could do and what they do have.”
About 30 percent of the center’s calls deal with substance use. An unprecedented change caused by the pandemic is that a lot of people with substance abuse issues rely on AA meetings and can no longer attend them.
“For some people, that’s their biggest coping method of all and to have that taken away is devastating,” she said, adding that some have turned back to substance use to cope and because of an increase in free time.
But, she said, support groups are still available virtually and there are still ways for people to recover from home.
“Just connecting with another human is helpful, especially for people who live on there own,” she said. “And if someone does need therapy or medication, there are places that are open.”
The LICC also operates Pride for Youth, a support and advocacy group that provides health services to young members of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride for Youth has been running all of its usual meetings on Zoom and have been sending food and in-home HIV tests to clients who need them.
The LICC also runs a community education program called Building Healthy Lives through Education and has been continuing to offer workshops over Zoom to reach students and parents while schools are closed. Laura Campbell runs the group, which holds workshops on cyber bullying, suicide prevention, self-injury and one called “Let’s Talk Mental Health.”
“Help is out there,” Buhse said. “It may look different then it did and in a different form, but it certainly still exists.”