COVID-19 Concerns Dominate Calls To Emotional Support Hotlines

By Geoff Norcross (OPB) and Courtney Sherwood (OPB)
April 9, 2020 5:34 p.m.

Clinical workers who take calls from people in crisis are facing their own emotional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased as some Oregonians encouraged to stay home have found that home can be a dangerous place. Portland’s police chief said in late March that 911 calls related to suicide were up.


At Lines for Life, which answers calls across numerous hotlines related to substance abuse and suicide, worries about the coronavirus are now a constant.

“People’s anxiety is up,” said Greg Borders, chief clinical officer at Lines for Life. “There are a lot more questions than there are answers at this time, and that’s something that can be particularly upsetting and activating for people.”

Related: How To 'Stay Home, Stay Safe,' When It's Not Safe At Home

Most callers to Lines for Life are now mentioning COVID-19, Borders said. Sometimes the pandemic is the center of their concerns, other times it overshadowing challenges that predate the outbreak.

“Stay Home-Stay Safe” restrictions are especially challenging for people in distress.


“People are feeling isolated. People are feeling worried about the financial situation they are in – whether that be around the stock market and their retirement, or something more pressing,” Borders said. “Am I going to lose my job? I haven’t been working and I’ve already lost my job. I’m trying to apply for unemployment”

Lines for Life leaders are trying to keep the clinical workers who take these calls updated about unemployment guidelines and other resources so they can provide accurate and helpful information to callers, he said.

Related: How Coronavirus Threatens The Recovery Of Some Who Struggle With Mental Health

Meanwhile, those clinical workers are under stresses of their own, as a workforce that traditionally is based in an office switches to a work-from-home model. That’s cut them off from supervisors and in-person team support aimed at helping them cope with an often-stressful job.

“We’ve had to be really creative to find ways to support our call takers when they are sitting in their living rooms taking these calls,” Borders said.

“What they are hearing on the lines, a lot of times, mirrors their own concerns and fears. It’s definitely challenging to spend eight hours taking calls about COVID-19 when you, yourself, have your own questions and concerns about it,” he said.

Staff are told to take breaks when they can.

“It’s the same thing we tell our callers: If you can get outside, grab a little sunshine while you can, walk around a little bit as long as you are respecting social distancing. That’s what we want our staff to be doing as well.”

If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Support is available 24/7.