Call volume to veteran crisis hotline up because of pandemic, mental health professionals say

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 8:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia VA Health Care System said call volume to the Veterans Crisis Hotline increased as much as 30%.

They said veterans calling the hotline are feeling isolated right now.

Mental health professionals said they have had to adapt how they reach struggling veterans because of the pandemic.

Andrew Selking was in the Army for more than 20 years. He said near the tail end of his military career he began to have thoughts of hurting himself.

“You need to be in a safe place,” Selking said. “It gives you that extra time. Time is what you need to get better.”

Selking reached out for mental health help. He has been receiving services from the VA for five years now. He said when the pandemic started he began getting those same services virtually through telemedicine.

“It’s actually been a lot quicker,” he said. “My doctor is able to fit in more appointments using telehealth.”

Mental health counselors at the Columbia VA Health Care System said they have seen a sharp jump in the number of referrals for their services and said the switch to more telehealth has helped them meet this demand.

Suicide Prevention Program Manager Dr. Peter Warren said during a time like this, families, friends, and doctors need to be there for veterans since they are at higher risk for suicide.

“Most non-veterans don’t see somebody they care about die or get injured. The veteran experience itself lends itself at high risk of experience because of the things they’ve seen,” Dr. Warren said.

Selking said everyone is struggling right now, but there is no shortage on hope.

“Make the decision you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there. Help is available,” he said.

Dr. Warren said if a veteran is feeling alone, anxious, or thinking about suicide, they should call the Veteran Crisis Hotline.

If you are a veteran and experiencing a crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

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