Near the end of March 2020, residents of central Illinois had been living with COVID-19 for about one month.
Little was known about the virus, and cases were rising rapidly, as were hospitalizations and deaths.
Responding to mental and emotional hardships intensified by the pandemic, Memorial Behavioral Health launched its emotional support hotline – the Memorial Emotional Support Line – on March 18, 2020.
The Memorial Emotional Support Line is a free service open to callers 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. To reach the support line, call 217-588-5509.
“The Emotional Support Line has been paramount in providing callers with a positive experience and many times operated – and still operates – as an introduction to behavioral health services,” said Amber Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and regional director of clinical operations for Memorial Behavioral Health. “Calling the support line was often a crucial first step for many of our callers in setting up or maintaining mental health services. From the start, we’ve sought to normalize the many emotional responses people can have to major life changes, disruptions, loss, collective grief and uncertainty.”
As of March 14, the Memorial Emotional Support Line has fielded 2,961 calls, averaging 5.5 calls each day the hotline was open. When it first launched, the hotline was staffed by a team of Memorial Behavioral Health graduate-level and licensed mental health professionals and was available seven days a week, including on holidays.
In April 2020, Memorial Behavioral Health staff were recruited to assist with a state agency-operated Call4Calm text service, which offered a texting option for Illinois residents in need of emotional support.
As rates of COVID-19 fluctuated, so did the nature of the calls handled by Memorial Behavioral Health staff through the Emotional Support Line.
“During positivity spikes, themes centered on increased anxiety regarding contracting COVID-19 or a loved one contracting the virus and stress over having young children who are unable to be vaccinated,” said Olson. “We also provided support to callers who were quarantined or struggling due to isolation and lack of social contact. Others were experiencing relationship discord.”
The Emotional Support Line not only served as an introduction to behavioral health services for some callers, but also as a bridge in mental health services for patients between therapy appointments. Local providers frequently referred clients to the support line to fill gaps in care between therapy, medical visits or both.
“Consistency and support during times of change are important,” said Olson, “and, although COVID-19 may not be the stressor it was, we still live in uncertain times. The Emotional Support Line is as relevant and important a service today as it was when we opened it two years ago.”