For our new series What It’s Like, we chat with people from different backgrounds about how their lives have changed since the new coronavirus became a global pandemic. For today’s installment, we spoke with a volunteer at Crisis Text Line, an organization providing free crisis counseling 24/7 via text.
Here at SELF, we often recommend the Crisis Text Line as a resource for anyone struggling with their mental health. (You can reach the line by texting HOME to 741-741.) Unsurprisingly, many people are reaching out for support from its volunteers amid the new coronavirus crisis. According to the most recent data shared by Crisis Text Line, 78 percent of texters are experiencing anxiety. On top of conversation topics that are common year-round, like relationships, depression, suicidal ideation, and loneliness, volunteers are now fielding concerns about panic, COVID-19 symptoms, finances, and being stuck inside.
One of these volunteers is 34-year-old Sara Schaller in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has been a crisis counselor for nearly three years, during which she’s spent 300 hours having almost 1,000 conversations with people in crisis. Starting this week, she’ll be taking on more hours to help support the growing need for available counselors.
I sent Sara a series of questions over two separate emails (“As you could guess, I'm much better at explaining via written word,” she told me, referring to how Crisis Text Line is a text-based service). I asked her about the past few weeks as a crisis counselor, the changes she’s seen, and how Crisis Text Line is aiming to help in these difficult times. Below are her answers, edited lightly for length and clarity.
SELF: When did the new coronavirus start popping up in your conversations with texters?
S.S.: It started slowly, much like the virus itself...then it picked up speed as more numbers of sick people were announced. I noticed a major shift in conversations about COVID-19 around the time it was declared a pandemic on March 11th. That's when the messages started becoming more about the fear surrounding the virus. I had one shift where I worked for about three hours, spoke to around 12 people, and every single conversation was about the virus. The fear grows as this virus does.
SELF: What themes are coming up a lot?
S.S.: There were plenty of texters whose lives were changed overnight. Especially college students. Many concerns about how to get back home. Some were afraid to go back home and others had no home to go back to. Then there are people whose jobs changed; one day they felt safe, the next day they found out everyone else can stay home, but since they're considered essential, they still have to work.
People are having nightmares, I've noticed that. There has also been an uptick in messages from young people in unsafe situations. Isolation is making even the calmest people anxious, so those who had already struggled with anxiety prior to the pandemic are suffering badly. There have been some conversations with people wondering if they have COVID-19, too.
SELF: Besides the topics of conversation, what other changes have you noticed?
S.S.: Before this, it seemed that all my conversations would be with younger texters, from preteen to young 20s. Now I have talked with a lot more older people. There’s more worry about family members and losing loved ones. A lot of mothers are worried about their children. A lot of parents are having a hard time themselves and don't know how to keep a brave face for their kids.
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