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By Collin Breaux

People can feel anxious and distressed during the global shutdown, which has led to increased calls to the National Disaster Distress Helpline.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a nonprofit mental health organization with locations in Southern California, handles calls for the Disaster Distress Helpline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For Orange County, Didi Hirsch’s combined lines answered two calls related to the coronavirus in February 2020, 115 in March, and is on track to exceed that number for April. About one in four Orange County calls is related to the coronavirus.

In terms of general numbers, Didi Hirsch answered almost 10% more calls through April of this year for all their lines compared to April 2019. For the Disaster Distress Helpline, they’ve answered five times as many calls through April 2020 compared to 2019.

Overall call numbers related to COVID-19 were 21 in February, more than 1,800 in March and on track to exceed 3,000 for April.

“First and foremost is anxiety and stress,” Lyn Morris, Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations, said to explain why people are calling.

Currently, people are in the midst of the coronavirus crisis and concerned with basic needs, and negative feelings could increase as financial problems grow and uncertainty continues, Morris said.

The crisis could also be a trigger for people who have been through previous catastrophes, including shootings, Morris said.

Along with anxiety and stress, coronavirus-related callers are also expressing concerns about their health, being evicted, paying utility bills and buying food. They are also discussing relationship problems and suicidal concerns, though in comparatively lesser numbers.

Morris said mental health needs are increasing due to lost social opportunities and increasing isolation, which can exacerbate conditions for people with existing mental health conditions.

The unknown extent or long-term effects of the pandemic can make people feel out of control, said Morris, who encouraged people to find other ways to stay connected during physical distancing.

“We encourage people to find ways to give back,” said Morris, noting research shows doing so is beneficial for mental health.

Giving back can include doing errands for elderly neighbors or sending gift cards to people in need.

Health experts say it is too early to say if suicide rates have recently increased during the pandemic, citing factors such as coroner investigations taking months to investigate cases. That information is not expected to be known until later this summer.

Death statistics obtained from OC Health Care Agency showed the number of Orange County residential deaths in March 2020 slightly increased from February 2020, but the number was lower compared to January 2020. The number of monthly residential deaths this year was 1,794 in March, 1,720 in February, and 1,921 in January .

February and March 2020 death rates were lower compared to 2019 numbers for those months. January 2020 deaths were higher compared to January 2019 numbers. Through the first part of April 2020, there reportedly has not been an increase in deaths in Orange County compared to the same months in the past two years.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1.800.273.8255, and the National Disaster Distress Helpline phone number is 1.800.985.5990.

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