Baltimore's Crisis Hotline: A Listening Ear in the Midst of a Global Crisis
One in five people in Baltimore has a mental illness—such as anxiety or depression. The COVID-19 crisis impacts everyone’s mental health, even people who have not been diagnosis with a mental illness. This time of uncertainty can cause stress and feelings of fear, loss, grief, and hopelessness.
Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) talked with Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc. (BCRI), the operator of Baltimore’s crisis hotline, to get a feel for how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the nature of crisis calls. To reach Baltimore's hotline call (410) 433 5175 anytime.
This is an abbreviated version of our interview with BCRI team members Edgar Wiggins, Executive Director, Quinita Garrett, Hotline Director, and Elijah McBride, Hotline Operator.
BHSB: With stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures in place, Baltimore City’s 24/7 hotline is a vital resource available to help people connect and cope. How have you seen the COVID-19 crisis impact callers?
BCRI: The isolation of the stay-at-home home order can exasperate feelings of grief and loss. We had one caller who had recently lost his mother and for the first time in his life was really struggling, expressing feeling suicidal. The counselor helped him work through his grief and suggested various coping strategies. She reminded him that this is only temporary, and they are here any time he needs to talk.
There has been an increase in callers expressing feelings of anxiety and isolation. One caller said they felt “like the four walls were closing in.” We have also received calls from frontline workers, like nurses, who are stressed at work and anxious about the risk of bringing the virus home to their loved ones.
We are always happy to connect callers to therapy or other resources if they want. But recently, many callers are just looking for someone to lend a listening ear.
BHSB: Have you seen people calling the hotline in need for other services?
BCRI: Yes, we have also seen an increase in people seeking detox services. Some people say the whole situation [COVID-19 crisis] has opened their eyes and they are ready for a change. So, we connect them to detox services in the community.
BHSB: What are some tips you share with callers to support their mental health?
BCRI: If you are feeling overwhelmed, reaching out for support and calling the hotline is a huge first step. I [ELIJAH] have been suggesting a couple of key things to callers:
Make a plan and find things to work on. Being organized and having goals day-by-day can help people feel stable and less overwhelmed.
Write. Writing in a diary can help people recognize and process their feelings.
Get creative. Dedicate time to new or old hobbies. It is a great time to explore a creative outlet.
Practice Self Care. Several callers couldn’t remember the last time they did something for themselves. Make time to do things that give you joy. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential.
If it starts to feel like too much, focus on your breathing. Whencallers are very emotional, walking them through breathing exercises can help calm them down so we can talk about what is upsetting them.
BHSB: It’s important for caretakers to practice self-care to stay grounded and continue to show up for the people they serve. As frontline workers, how are you practicing self-care?
BCRI: I [ELIJAH] am a very spiritual person. I use prayer to stay grounded. Every day I pray that my callers get the help they are seeking. I also have creative outlets; when I go home, I will play the piano, write music or write poetry. I always know my team here is there if I need to talk.
Resources to Support Mental Health in Different Communities
BHSB, the Baltimore City Health Department, and a diverse group of partners created several One Pagers to support mental health for various Baltimore communities. Each one pager includes tips to support mental health and wellness as well as important COVID-19 resources and information. The One Pagers include:
NAMIWalks is going to be a little different this year. It's not canceled; it's moved to a virtual event. BHSB will join the virtual walk to support NAMI Maryland and raise awareness about mental illness.