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One Mental Health Hotline Is Seeing Twice As Many Calls Since Kansas City's Shutdown

CommCARE refers callers to one of seven support agencies.

Officials say that in recent weeks calls have been less about coronavirus and more about food, housing and financial support.

Terry Trafton of CommCARE, a not-for-profit behavioral health agency in Kansas City, Missouri, says their call center has seen a dramatic uptick in calls, particularly in April as the COVID-19 restrictions began to feel relentless for many.

“It’s sporadic and it goes in waves, but we’ve seen an increase as high as 50% in our calls over April,” Trafton says.

In recent weeks, there have been more calls from people seeking emergency support for food, housing or financial services. The agency is adding resources to meet the need.

“Early on in the pandemic, we were getting questions more specific to COVID-19,” says Michelle Watson, director of the CommCARE Hotline. “But as the economy was slow to open up, people were experiencing multiple aspects of their lives being interrupted.”

CommCARE’s 24/7 FirstStepFor HELP.com hotline will assess a call and make a referral to one of seven mental health partners.

The agency also covers a significant part of rural Missouri, where social services, mental health facilities and physicians are in short supply.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that nationwide, almost half of adults say they’re experiencing anxiety or concerns related to COVID-19. The added stress, it says, will further burden a health care system stretched to capacity.

The $2 trillion congressional stimulus package includes almost half a billion dollars for mental health, substance-use-disorders and suicide prevention programs.

Even though stay-at-home orders are being lifted in the Kansas City metro, Trafton says many will stay inside for fear of contracting the virus. Increased isolation, he says, exacerbates the fear that accompanies financial, food or housing insecurity.

“We want to let people know there are licensed professional counselors that can help them find basic resources, or even vent about getting unemployment.”

Almost 700,000 people have filed unemployment claims in Kansas and Missouri since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harvesters Community Food Network says it is distributing an “unprecedented” amount of food to its network of pantries and kitchens. The third week in May, the food distribution network had two days in which it distributed more food in a single day than in the agencies history.

Johnson County Mental Health is also seeing a heightened demand for services.

Spokesman Keith Davenport says demand has increased most significantly at walk-in clinics and virtual crisis services as a result of the pandemic, but the county's 24/7 crisis hotline is receiving almost 400 calls per week. The 24 Hour Emergency Services number is 913-268-0156.

“We’re seeing about 50 interventions per week through (walk-in and virtual) services,” Davenport says. “It’s hard to know if they are specifically pandemic related, but we do expect people to continue to experience acute psychological distress as they experience the impact of job losses and change to daily routine.”

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