According to a recent survey from Mental Health America, adults and youth have both suffered significant and worsening mental health issues during the pandemic. The number of people seeking help for anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts has increased.

Even though vaccination efforts are putting the end of the pandemic in sight, a local helpline says people in West Virginia still feel distressed. HELP304, West Virginia’s emotional strength line, provides immediate access to crisis counselors for anyone in the state. The program was enacted at the start of the pandemic as a response to Covid-related stress.

Program Director Steven Perry says despite progress towards ending the pandemic, calls to the hotline continue to climb and were at an all-time high in March.

“The primary issue that we’re hearing among callers is isolation fatigue and stress from lack of stimulation,” he said. “Folks have been cut off from their normal social groups and activities for a while now, which have for some, resulted in diminished motivation, excessive worry, and paranoia, and added stress on relationships. We’re getting more calls from those who are dealing with heightened anxiety, even on the verge of panic. Months of instability and uncertainty as to when this will all end have really taken an emotional toll, and many callers feel hopeless.”

He said that even as restrictions lift and the virus fades, the pandemic experience will leave a lasting traumatic imprint on many. “People have lost loved ones, lost jobs, and have lived in a state of worry about basic survival, including concern they will get sick or won’t be able to feed their family,” he said. The effects of this pandemic may last for years.”

HELP304 is supported by Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) and West Virginia Department of Health and Humans Resources (DHHR) and is operated by First Choice Services. The line provides 24/7 support that can be accessed by calling 1-877-HELP-304 or by chatting online at Online stress management groups are also available. All services are free and confidential.

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