If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a behavioral health crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Additional resources can be found at the bottom of this article.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizonans have turned to call lines for help more often and for new reasons.
The virus has caused many to endure financial hardship, job loss, academic stress and some harmful impacts of isolation, which health officials say can cause people to experience high levels of stress, anxiety and an overall mental health decline.
For those facing psychological impacts associated with the pandemic, they can turn to crisis hotlines or “warm lines” for support. Hotlines serve those in immediate crisis while warm lines provide early intervention for people seeking mental health help.More people have anxiously reached out to warm lines and hotlines for mental health support related to the economic impacts and the uncertainty of the future since the virus was dubbed a pandemic in March.
Some people call the HOPE Warm Line every day, according to HOPE Warm Line manager Michael Van Story.
“Someone would call who’s struggling with depression or anxiety who’s maybe having trouble getting started that day … so we provide that support to help keep them going and push them forward in their own recovery,” Van Story said.
The demand for emotional support has increased for people living in southern Arizona during the pandemic.
One line sees calls double
The HOPE Warm Line assists southern Arizona counties and has experienced more than a 100% increase in calls since the end of March, when many businesses and schools shut down to curb the spread of the new virus.
The warm line is a peer- and family-run organization offering free support to those who want to talk about life challenges, coping skills, mental illness or substance use. It is not a crisis line, but callers can be directed to one.
Prior to March 23, the support line averaged at 850 calls per week. After Gov. Doug Ducey issued a state-wide stay-at-home order on March 30, call volume doubled to 1,788 calls for the week of April 6 through April 12 — a 110% increase.
These numbers have fluctuated slightly, but they hover between 1,600 and 2,000 calls each week. The call volume hasn’t dipped below its previous average since the warm line started tracking the weekly data near the end of March.
The warm line doubled employees from seven to 15 workers to keep up with the spike in callers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a high percentage of calls were related to anxiety and depression from the stress of COVID-19, Van Story said.
But then COVID-19-related calls decreased until the end of May and people began talking about other things as months passed, Van Story said.
Ducey ended the stay-at-home order May 15 and allowed businesses like gyms, restaurants, shopping malls and hair salons to reopen.
When cases started to increase near the end of June and beginning of July, callers were anxious about the coronavirus again, he said.
“They are not scared or worried about food and resources … it’s mainly just the stress and anxiety of being isolated and not knowing when this is going to be over,” he said.
‘The anxiety levels are through the roof’
For another hotline, the economic impact from the pandemic is callers’ most-talked-about issue and is the root cause of many people’s anxiety.
As more people lose their jobs because of COVID-19, people have expressed a heightened concern about affording their prescriptions, putting food on the table for their family and getting by, according to Justin Chase, thepresident and CEO of Crisis Response Network.
“People are worried about the economic impact,” Chase said. “We see that on all three of our lines as our number one issue … people lost their job and they are losing hope.”
The Crisis Response Network is a crisis call center based in Tempe for people who need help solving a problem, discussing concern about a loved one, coping with difficult relationships or help processing thoughts of suicide. Crisis intervention specialists are available 24/7 and assist people in northern and central Arizona.
The crisis line hasn’t seen a spike in call volume in the past four months. Instead, they have experienced a slight increase in new callers and anxiety-related calls.
In April, anxiety-related calls increased by 36.4% and medical calls increased 19%. Suicide and self-harm calls decreased by 13% compared to last year’s data for the same month, according to Chase.
“The anxiety levels are through the roof,” Chase said.
Growing need for utility and housing assistance
The Crisis Response Network also operates 211 Arizona, a statewide information and referral service that connects people to resources such as housing options, employment opportunities, healthcare, support groups, utility assistance and veteran services.
In the past few months, utility and housing assistance have been the most common reasons people dialed 211. At 31%, utility assistance made up the highest percentage of calls while 25% of calls came from people looking for housing assistance.
Market rate housing options, COVID-19 specific services and emergency shelter and food assistance were also other common reasons people called.
The service began offering a COVID-19 line in March to help people understand the spread of the virus, symptoms, testing information in addition to a website with up-to-date COVID-19 information.
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Additionally, the Resilient Arizona Crisis Counseling Program was created in June to help Arizonans recover from the pandemic by offering people emotional support, crisis counseling and connections to resources in their communities.
The program has received the most calls from people who are facing unemployment and other financial loss, according to Chase.
People access the program by dialing 211.
Influx in suicide cases possible in coming months
Arizona deaths in June have far exceeded a typical year, and officials say preliminary data seems to point toward increased drug overdoses and suicides.
The factors many people are experiencing now are commonly associated with suicide and drug overdose deaths, said Mark Person, program manager of Community Mental Health and Addiction for the Pima County Health Department
“When we apply systematic changes to our environment that will impact a wide range of people simultaneously, the fear of increased rates of suicides and drug overdose deaths are very real,” Person said in an email.
Data from both Maricopa and Pima counties show suicides reached a high point for the year so far in March but have since declined.
Ron Coleman, a Maricopa County spokesperson, noted county public health reports tend to lag in time.
Maricopa County sent a graph displaying suicide death rates per month for the last two years through mid-July. According to the graph, both March 2019 and March 2020 saw the highest suicides.
Suicide rates in Maricopa County declined from April to June and then slightly increased through July of this year.
Jennifer Franklin, a county spokesperson, said some 2020 cases are still under investigation and the suicide rates may change.
Although Pima County reported March as having the most suicides cases so far this year with 24 deaths, the number of cases for the past three yearsin March averaged 22, Person said.
The county released a report in May that showed seven suicides from March 1 to March 14 and 15 suicides from March 15 to March 28 — a spike in deaths from the beginning to the end of the month.
Hotline information: reach out for support
For Pima County, call the HOPE Warm Line at 520-770-9909. For all other southern counties, call 844-733-9912. The warm line operates daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Contact the Crisis Response Network northern Arizona crisis hotline at 1-877-756-4090. For central Arizona call 1-800-631-1314. The warm line can be reached at 602-347-1100. All numbers can be reached 24/7.
The National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 in English and 1-888-628-9454 in Spanish. It’s free and confidential for those in distress who need prevention or crisis resources for themselves or loved ones.
Other Arizona resources:
- La Frontera Empact Suicide Prevention Center’s crisis line serves Maricopa and Pinal counties 24/7 at 480-784-1500.
- Teen Lifeline 24/7 crisis line at 602-248-8336 for Maricopa County and 1-800-248-8336 statewide.
- Maricopa County Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 1-800-631-1314 or 602-222-9444.