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Coronavirus: As case counts climb, London-area crisis centre sees influx of calls

Coping with stress and anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic
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With the COVID-19 pandemic overtaking nearly every facet of daily life, more and more London-area residents are turning to local crisis centres for help getting through this challenging time.

At the Middlesex arm of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), calls to its crisis support line have risen by 50 per cent over the last two weeks, with calls to its volunteer-run supportive listening line up 43 per cent, according to the agency’s director of crisis services and short-term interventions.

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“I think when this was all happening, we did expect that we may have more people reaching out who are in crisis or in distress. But certainly it’s been even higher than we expected,” said Lori Hassall in an interview Monday with Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock.

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“I am glad that people are reaching out, that they know where to call and that supports are available because it’s a tough time for our whole community.”

Its main crisis line, staffed by agency workers trained in crisis intervention and mental health and addictions services, offers immediate support or information to those who need it, while its volunteer-run line offers supportive listening to callers who may be feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Both operate around the clock, seven days a week, with the heaviest call times being between mid-morning and mid-evening, Hassall said.

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“We do get calls in the middle of the night. People who maybe can’t sleep and are feeling anxious and overwhelmed and just want to talk to someone.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Toronto professor creates free online course to manage mental health

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With some of the agency’s services on hold or reduced temporarily, such as those offered in the community, Hassall says staff members from those areas have been redeployed to the crisis line to help respond to more calls.

In addition, Hassall said more than 30 medical students have offered to help with the volunteer-run support line after CMHA Middlesex lost about 70 per cent of its trained volunteers because of the pandemic. (About 75 per cent of the agency’s volunteers are students, many of whom went back home, she says.)

The organization has also managed to find other workarounds.

“In the last couple of weeks, with the help of our I.T. department, we’ve been able to have our services answered remotely, so our volunteers can do that in their homes,” Hassall said. “We’ve also trained our staff to be able to answer the support line as well.”

“By [Tuesday], we should be able to offer about triple our capacity to answer phones, which is pretty exciting.”

READ MORE: Kelowna psychologist on the psychological impact of COVID-19 in extended interview

It’s important people remember that being anxious at a time line this is normal, Hassall said, adding it’s also important people remember to look after themselves, be it by getting out of the house and getting exercise when possible, checking the news less frequently, and staying social with friends and family by text, phone, or video chat.

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I know on the weekend, the weather was beautiful [on Sunday], and my partner and I were out in our garage, and our friends and neighbours kind of walked by and we had a great conversation, with them at the end of the driveway,” Hassall said. “It was nice and fun and a nice break.

“We are social beings, and it’s hard because we’re having to adjust things, we’re not able to gather in groups and have get-togethers like we used to, but we can connect in other ways.”

More information about CMHA’s support phone lines can be found on the agency’s website.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.