Since the summer, Drew Martel said people are increasingly calling the state’s crisis hotline, Your Life Iowa.
Adults and teens are calling and texting counselors about depression and anxiety. Some are reporting isolation and distress caused by the pandemic.
Grief calls are coming from people who lost loved ones to the virus.
The number of hotline calls has risen so rapidly since July 2020, they’re expected to outpace all of fiscal year 2020, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“Hidden within the pandemic is a catastrophic economic crisis,” said Martel, director of crisis services at Foundation 2, a Cedar Rapids-based non-profit that contracts through the state to help operate Your Life Iowa. “Certainly that seems to be something that comes up quite frequently, especially combined with the derecho we had later this summer.”
Between July 2019 and June 2020, counselors for Your Life Iowa took 8,181 total calls.
This year, counselors have already answered 6,038 calls between July and October alone, averaging around 1,500 calls a month, said Eric Preuss, program manager for Your Life Iowa at the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The type of calls that come in vary: substance abuse, gambling addiction, mental health and suicidal thoughts are some of the issues Your Life Iowa counselors speak with Iowans about. They also advise family members and friends who are seeking help for someone else.
Preuss said counselors started receiving more calls starting in March and April, when restrictions were put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. Since then, monthly calls have nearly doubled from 944 in March to 1,680 in October.
During her press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said there have been damaging repercussions from the pandemic beyond the virus itself. A record-breaking number of Iowans lost their jobs, while many still face food insecurity.
Between March and September 2020, 319 Iowans died by suicide, a slight increase in comparison to the last two years, Reynolds said.
“The unintended consequences of COVID-19 are a burden that weigh heavily on too many,” Reynolds said. “People are waiting longer than usual to seek help and are already in crisis mode.”
COVID-19 has also changed how some people receive support, Martel said. Iowans with substance abuse disorders may have lost their support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Foundation 2, which dispatches mobile crisis teams for Iowans who call that may need face-to-face interactions, have moved to telehealth services several times this year, including now, Martel said. Counselors typically traveled between counties to help out at schools, hospitals or private residences, but they have moved to a virtual platform.
“It’s a hard thing to go telehealth,” Martel said. “It’s one of the harder decisions we’ve made.”
The increase in calls is a good thing, Preuss said, because it means more Iowans are learning about the hotline and are reaching out to talk. Counselors are there to help refer people to nearby services or just talk to someone who wants to chat.
They even helped the state’s 211 services when people were searching for food and shelter after the derecho.
“It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help,” Preuss said. “We’re there just to listen and to help.”
Between two to six counselors staff the hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Martel said. Preuss said the hotline hasn’t reached its call capacity yet, but if it happens, additional funding will be sought to ensure needs are met.
In the next four to five months, Preuss said there are plans to raise awareness about the hotline, as well as Your Life Iowa’s chat and texting services.
“No matter what you may be facing, Your Life Iowa is there,” Preuss said.