SOUTHERN COLORADO — An increase in call volume coming into Colorado Crisis Services reflects a large mental strain due to the Stay at Home order taking place in Colorado. It sparked a conversation about how the community can try to help those who may not feel like there is an end in sight.
A local man reached out to News5, speaking up about his journey with PTSD to try and help others who may be struggling with their own mental health right now. He wished to remain anonymous for the interview. "I know that I have depression. I know that, especially on days when I can't get out of the house, it increases. I get more anxious," said the man, who told News5 he has been living with PTSD for around 15 years.
He also said he works as a paramedic on a local military installation. "I've just noticed in the past couple weeks that we've had an increase in people calling for suicidal ideations."
Before COVID-19, the man said he has "had some friends who have successfully killed themselves... The question is always why. Why didn't I see these signs?"
News5 reached out to the Colorado Springs Fire Department, to see if there has been an increase in the number of mental health related calls they receive. "It might come in as say a psychiatric call, or it may come in as an unclassified medical call. So, to know whether it's somebody in crisis or it's potentially a suicidal patient, or anything indicating that suicidal ideation, is really hard to say at this point," said John Giacoma, a fire driver and engineer with the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
Giacoma said the Colorado Springs Fire Department has a peer support network with around 40 members, where people who work within the department can go for mental health help. The peer support network is led by a department staff psychiatrist. As of right now, Giacoma said they have not seen an uptick in the number of members needing their services.
Giacoma also reinforced that the Colorado Springs Fire Department is here to support and serve the public through this trying time. "Unprecedented slow down of our society right now, and there is some kind of wear and tear that goes with that. With folks having to stay indoors, disrupt their normal lives, we know that a lot of the public is worried about their finances and their jobs, and just the overall concerns of the health aspects of this," said Giacoma.
If you are struggling with mental health during this pandemic, therapists are continuing to meet virtually with their clients. Cassaundra Hein has been an outpatient therapist since 2008. She works as a marriage family child therapist at Four Feathers Counseling, and said she will be entering her fifth week of practicing telehealth. Hein said anxiety seems to be rising, because the unknown can be frightening. "From week one to week four, I can say I've doubled in the amount of services I've provided... Those who I saw maybe every other week, want to be seen every week now," said Hein.
Hein said her practice has not seen any hospitalizations or suicide attempts, but that she has heard of some happening recently. "I've heard of several suicides in the last week, which has been really concerning. There's not a rhyme or reason, they're not just one age, it's actually all across the board," said Hein.
Hein also told News5 that Four Feathers Counseling just needs a person's name, date of birth, address, and insurance information to get verified for therapy. Their practice is insurance based, and operates on a sliding scale for those who pay privately. The intake can all be done electronically. "There are a lot of us who are open and ready to do intake at any time, you don't have to be an established client to seek out therapy at this time... Wouldn't want them to think that they're all alone in this, you know, everyone is dealing with this," said Hein.
Those with the Colorado Department of Human Services said Colorado Crisis Services has experienced a significant increase in the number of people reaching out for services. Normally, there is some growth in the utilization of their hotline during the spring, with around 13,000 calls. However, as the graph below indicates, there were almost 20,000 in March 2020. "Beyond just sort of normal seasonal growth, we're seeing a substantial uptick in call volume. So, I do think that I would attribute it to the fact that folks are isolated," said Camille Harding, the division director of Community Behavioral Health with the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Harding said they hope people do reach out if they are struggling, or noticing any changes in their behavior that are concerning. She also said some healthy ways of managing stress include exercise, taking time for yourself, and getting outside for socially distant walks.
Harding told News5 Colorado Crisis Services can also connect people with local resources that can help them, and that all of their providers are still open for business. "Part of the Crisis Hotline is the fact that if they assess that someone's at risk and needs a face-to-face intervention, that we can deploy a mobile team that can come out and do an intervention with someone and help figure out what the next steps would be. Whether they need to go to an inpatient level of stay, or whether we can do some interventions, get them what they need, get them connected with resources in their community and then just do some intermittent follow up to make sure that they're going to do okay," said Harding.
News5 also reached out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which said they have not experienced significant changes in call volume at this time, but that could shift as we move through the stages of disaster. However, those with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline did say their Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338% increase in call volume compared with February 2020, and an 891% increase compared with March 2019. The Disaster Distress Helpline is focused on providing emotional support to people affected by both natural and human disasters.
The anonymous Southern Colorado man living with PTSD hopes his story gives someone the courage to seek help. "If you're going through this, you're struggling with these thoughts, reach out. You know, I know that a phone call or a Facetime isn't as personal as actually meeting with somebody, but just reach out, let somebody know that you're struggling."
If you or someone you love is struggling, you don't have to wait to get help. Call Colorado Crisis Services hotline at 1-844-493-8255, or text "TALK" 38255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
For anyone who may be dealing with substance use issues, lots of resources can be found in this News5 article: "This too shall pass:" Resources for those in recovery and isolated
While there are links embedded in the above article, more are linked below:
Colorado Crisis Services: https://coloradocrisisservices.org/
Parkview Behavioral Health: https://www.parkviewmc.com/care-treatment/behavioral-health/