By Grace Basler, Communications Intern
As a community, we are facing unprecedented circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact only heighten the need for the services offered by CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank. For many people, the pandemic is a scary time. In addition to fearing the virus itself, our society is rapidly changing. As we see soaring unemployment rates and social isolation, more and more people face the possibility of emotional or financial insecurity. Those who already have mental health issues may be experiencing heightened emotional distress due to COVID-19. Through these times, our 24-hour call, chat, and text crisis lines remain open thanks to our dedicated volunteers and staff.
Following social distancing recommendations by the CDC and IDPH, our Crisis Intervention volunteers have shifted to working remotely. We have seen a large increase in the number of contacts, primarily to the national Disaster Distress Helpline, which has increased from 60 contacts per month to 60 or more contacts each day. Some of our Crisis Intervention volunteers are stepping up to answer these contacts as contract employees to meet increased demand.
Sammi T. has been volunteering in Crisis Intervention for around two years.
“It is so important to offer our services right now because people’s lives have been completely uprooted,” Sammi said. “I am amazed by all of the volunteers and staff that are showing up to support [clients], even though it’s a difficult time for all of us.”
Since the beginning of this pandemic, volunteers are reporting changes in the type of contacts they receive during their shifts. According to Chris L., a remote Crisis Intervention volunteer, there have been fewer suicidal crisis chats, but far more chats centered around isolation, anxiety, and fear. For many clients, their whole lives have changed in the last few weeks.
“For me, those are sometimes more difficult chats because people can’t leave their house,” Chris said. “It’s a whole different set of coping techniques than what I’ve used with people in the past.”
Our volunteers have had to get creative by finding new ways to encourage clients when regular coping techniques might not be available. Chris has focused on sharing self-care strategies that help clients take time to focus on themselves, including meditation and listening to podcasts.
According to Crisis Intervention volunteer Ana C., many clients are also frustrated with the information available to them. Some are having trouble knowing which resources they should turn to, and others feel overwhelmed with the surplus of information on social media or on the news every day.
People aren’t only having to change their work and social lives, but doctor’s appointments are also being rescheduled or canceled which adds another layer of frustration. In order to help with these frustrations, Ana encourages coping techniques such as going on socially distanced walks where it’s allowed, deep breathing, and reading and writing. Ana likes to encourage clients to contact the crisis line again later that day if they are still struggling.
Among volunteers, the importance of empathy has been stressed during this time. By putting themselves in the client’s shoes and trying to experience things from their point of view, it makes it easier to help.
“A big way that I have been trying to support these clients is by always incorporating empathy into a contact that is purely looking for resources,” Sammi said. “I have had a lot of individuals be thankful for this, even though they were expecting a quick conversation. I don’t think we all realize, including myself, right now how nice is it for someone to just check up on your mental health and see how you are doing.”
“By the end of the call, you can definitely tell if you have made a difference,” Ana said.Volunteering with the Crisis Intervention team not only allows volunteers to help others, but also is a personally rewarding experience. During this time of isolation, Chris appreciates being able to continue providing emotional support while social distancing.
When working remotely, it is important for our volunteers to remember to take part in self-care themselves. Our volunteers are experiencing the effects of this crisis along with the people who are reaching out, and they may be facing many of the same fears. Chris said that taking the time to process conversations that may have been emotionally draining is an important part of supporting your own mental health and taking extra care during this time.
We are so appreciative of all of our staff and volunteers for adapting to continue offering our services during this crisis. As always, we will continue to answer the community’s calls.
Our crisis line at 1-855-325-4296 is available for anyone to call or text. Chat is available online at IowaCrisisChat.org.
If you are interested in volunteering in Crisis Intervention, you can apply at
builtbycommunity.org/volunteer. In addition to the opportunity to answer chats and texts remotely, we also offer remote training and mentoring sessions to prepare volunteers for this important work.