How a mental health hotline helped Daytonians weather pandemic

Thousands of Ohioans at home, in school and on the front lines called in over the last year to a new hotline that was created as a mental health resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CareLine at 1-800-720-9616 fielded 6,579 calls from its inception April 22, 2020, through April 30.

The threat of illness, isolation, job loss and more that came with the pandemic led to an increase in need for mental health services. And the state might operate the hotline even after the pandemic wanes.

“People around the state have really utilized the line for exactly the reason why it was created and that was just to give someone an additional option to be able to reach out to someone for help,” said Alexander Rulon, director of community care at Talbert House, which fielded CareLine calls from the Dayton area.

Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction services, said some of the biggest barriers to mental health and addiction care are that people don’t know who to call or where to get help, they feel embarrassed or ashamed, or they’re not sure what the cost of care will be.

“And so with this number, we’ve been able to really address that by just creating a single spot for people to go that’s highly visible, making it okay to not be okay and okay and to ask for help,” Criss said.

Calls pour in

Health care workers called. Distressed students called. People in economic crisis called.

Dispatchers noticed that a lot of people were just calling to talk to someone and be listened to.

“A lot of it has just been that that warm feeling, if you will, of just being being there for someone and listening to their story and empathizing with them. And more often than not, that’s gotten the caller what they needed,” said Alexander Rulon, Talbert House director of community care.

Many callers were on the front lines of COVID response in some form.

“We fielded so many calls from other professionals who have continued to stay employed ... hospitals, emergency personnel, fire, police and from professionals in that line of work who are calling our line just to vent at the end of their day, because of what they’ve experienced through the pandemic.”

In an analysis of data, about half were provided information and resources. Around a third received a brief intervention. Around 10% were referred to a behavioral health agency, and 7.5% were referred elsewhere.

About 6 in 10 callers didn’t give their race or ethnicity, 4 in 10 didn’t give their age, and a little over 1 in 10 didn’t give their gender, so the caller demographics aren’t clear.

Amanda Krodel, information and referral coordinator, said she took a call from a woman who thought she wasn’t going to have to give up her four year old because she couldn’t care for her, but Krodel was able to get her connected with immediate hospital care and resource help.

“I got her to the hospital, and which is a very rare thing to happen, and even more rare for me to be the recipient of both calls, but she called the next day to thank me,” Krodel said.

The national increase in mental health problems has been documented in multiple studies and surveys. Kaiser Family Foundation reported during the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019.

A KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

The COVID CareLine began April 22, 2020, staffed by Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and in July it became the Ohio CareLine operated by community providers. The quick launch in the public health emergency took a lot coming together from the technology, to the staff training, to advertising and awareness.

“So it was a heavy lift, but we brought it up fairly quickly,” Criss said.

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