Local mental health organization sees increase in calls as coronavirus concerns continue to grow


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – As the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise, so do the calls for help.

“In the last week or two, we have seen an increase in mental health calls. They’re up a couple hundred more than normal,” says Tamara Starnes, Chief Clinical Officer at Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare (BRBH)

Mental Health services and hotlines across the country are noticing a spike in activity from many people who are feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. Experts say during a time of uncertainty and social distancing, people need help now more than ever.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults in the United States say the pandemic has affected their mental health and 19% say it has had a “major impact.”

With cancelled events, closed businesses and schools, and high unemployment, Starnes says this is an anxiety-provoking time for many.

“We’ve experienced disasters in U.S. and across world, but this pandemic feels different because it’s closer. It’s very widespread, there’s a lot of coverage, and some generations haven’t gone through something big like this before,” says Starnes.

With an increase in calls, Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare officials are unsure on exactly why that is – whether it’s people wanting to talk about the coronavirus outbreak or people simply asking about their existing services to make sure their needs are met.

Despite the reason, they’re taking a serious approach to collecting and analyzing recent trends in numbers over the past few weeks in order to make sure their facilities are handling those calls appropriately.

Starnes says she glad more people are expressing their feelings and getting the help that they need.

“I do think folks are talking about it more. We have seen a recent decrease in new cases coming in-person. I think that’s part of people following the Governor Ralph Northam’s state-at-home order, so we still want to be able to help folks that need it, but the clients we do have are definitely speaking out about it,” says Starnes.

BRBH is one of many organizations around southwest Virginia that are helping those who may be suffering in silence.

Since the organization is considered an essential business, facilities like the Burrell Center remains open. However, officials says they have seen a general decline in the number of visitor they normally receive.

Instead, more people are opting for online services including over the phone and video calls.

The mental health service’s emergency 24-hour crisis line has also been a resource for many people who may be feeling suicidal or who tend to have extreme reactions and serious mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Starnes says these troubling times are not only a time of anxiety, but chronic stress as well.

“Not only are you experiencing a stressful situation; it’s a long one. It’s a long duration, and we know over time with chronic stress things happen like getting more irritable with people,” says Starnes.

BRBH is currently looking into allowing clients to utilize their telehealth services for the first time without having to meet with a mental health professional in-person, as well as adding additional counseling programs.

“People just need to feel supported, to be heard,” say Starnes.

She adds there are also certain things you can do at home in order to relieve stressors and anxieties in your daily life:

Tips on How to Cope During Coronavirus

  • Make small decisions.
  • Focus on what you have control over.
  • Stay in contact with family in friends, remotely.
  • Get active.
  • Focus on self-care.
  • Remind yourself that there will be an end to the pandemic.
  • Remain hopeful.

For more information on BRBH’s resources and services, visit their website here.


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