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Mental Health Agencies Step Up To Field Calls From Anxious, Depressed Illinois Residents Struggling To Cope During Pandemic

To connect with a counselor, people can text “TALK” to 5-5-2-0-2-0 or text “HABLAR” to the same number for counseling in Spanish and will remain anonymous.

A Thresholds staffer speaks to a Call4Calm caller.
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RAVENSWOOD — Just as doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis have stepped up, mental health organizations throughout Illinois are answering Governor JB Pritzker’s call to help those saddled with anxiety and stress through the state’s new Call4Calm program. 

Chicago-based Thresholds typically provides healthcare and housing for people with mental illness and substance abuse problems, but some if the organization’s staff will be switching gears to answer the calls of stressed, sad and overwhelmed Illinois residents.

“We have no idea what to expect because typically we don’t provide this service to the general public,” said Debbie Pavik, Chief Clinical Officer at Thresholds. “We work with people with severe mental illnesses, so typically the type of work we do is different is talking to someone in the general public who might be experiencing some anxiety around the current crisis.”

Taking care of your mental health during this pandemic is vital, and for those who lost their jobs, the stress can become overwhelming.

“There are people who are experiencing all types of issues — cut in pay, maybe no income coming in, kids out of school, people who are afraid, people who are angry,” Pavik said.

Illinois Department of Public Health spokesperson Meghan Powers said 62 mental health providers statewide stepped up to help the general public cope with COVID-19 through Call4Calm.

“We’re all dealing with a new situation. … It’s OK to feel. And please know that you don’t have to feel it all alone. I want you to know we’re here to help,” Pritzker said when announcing the program.

Call4Calm, a free emotional support text line, was created to serve Illinois residents “swimming in the stress and uncertainty” caused by COVID-19, Pritzker said.

To connect with a counselor, people can text “TALK” to 5-5-2-0-2-0 or text “HABLAR” to the same number for counseling in Spanish and will remain anonymous. 

Once a resident texts the hotline, they’ll get a call from a licensed counselor within 24 hours.

Pavik said the state vets the calls, sending people with more immediate emergencies like suicidal thoughts to a suicide hotline. The rest get sent to the dozens of providers. Which group gets which inquiry is based on the zip code of the person who contacted them, Pavik said. 

Thresholds has 7 full-time employees qualified to assist, and will continue doing their typical work with vulnerable populations.

“We try to help people with very basic needs — help them find housing, maintain housing, get connected to psychiatry and to healthcare. Make sure they have medication, make sure they have the benefit entitlements that they would need to live on, and we provide skill building for people in the community and general support,” Pavik said.

She added that while she thinks the coronavirus-related calls will like be from people with a variety of concerns, there are a few things people can do to lesson their anxiety.

“I would ask people to think about when they might have experienced these types of feelings in the past and what was successful in helping them in that situation. Trying to give people back the control that they feel they have lost,” Pavik said.

She also said people should to keep an eye on the amount of sleep they get and to try to maintain a normal sleep pattern and to be sure to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Also, you don’t need to watch every single news conference.

“Limit how much you expose yourself to media,” she said. “It starts to feel that it’s out of control and none of us like to feel that anything within our environment is out of control.”

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