Despite national reports claiming huge spikes in the use of mental health hotlines, use of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline remains nearly unchanged compared to this time last year.
Multiple media outlets around the country have reported increases in the use of mental health hotlines during the coronavirus pandemic. At least one outlet claimed an increase in hotline use of 1,000 percent.
According to Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline data, there were 1,013 contacts via phone or text chat for the month of April. Hotline Supervisor and Clinical Lead George Austin said that is approximately 300 fewer calls than April 2019.
Mr. Austin said that while some areas may be experiencing increased use that is not the overall trend.
“There have been some regional spikes in hotline use. Most people are reporting what we are seeing which is it has not been a huge change in volume,” Mr. Austin said. “The big thing is to recognize that there is help out there.”
Within the Panhandle Health District, the hotline has received approximately a dozen calls per week. However, it is optional for callers to disclose their location and many choose not to according to Mr. Austin.
“It has been about a dozen a week that we have tracked that people have told us,” Mr. Austin said.
Not everyone calls the hotline or makes use of services either. According to the Benewah County Sheriff’s log, dispatch received an average of two calls per week, April 2020, pertaining to suicidal subjects.
Some people have not sought help because of the coronavirus.
“There are a lot of people not getting help because they are worried about going to a hospital right now,” Mr. Austin said.
Ironically it is the coronavirus that is causing some people to need the help they might not seek. According to hotline data, approximately 20 to 30 percent of those calls have been from people expressing anxiety or concern related to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Mr. Austin calls related to the coronavirus vary from economic concerns to abuse but often it is people struggling to deal with close quarters.
“Sometimes it is abusive relationship issues but most of the time is just people being under the same roof,” Mr. Austin said. “General anxiety is something we track and that has gone up compared to last year.”
Multiple resources for mental health assistance exist throughout the state including in northern Idaho and Benewah County. Benewah Community Hospital has a licensed clinical social worker on staff who is a qualified mental health professional. Regionally, Kootenai Behavioral Health and the North Idaho Crisis Center are also available for assistance.
Help is also closer than many realize. Having a friend or family member who is willing to express their concern for someone having suicidal thoughts can be crucial.
“For people that are concerned about somebody, the big thing is to stay in communication with people. If somebody goes through the effort to call that means a lot—just checking in,” Mr. Austin said. “And it is ok to be direct and say, ‘based on what you said I am worried that you are having thoughts of suicide.’ If someone is feeling that way it is often a relief to hear someone acknowledge it.”