Spike in calls for mental health help on NAMI helpline

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. — On Saturday, a virtual walk will be held for mental health awareness that was organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Boston 25 News is a proud supporter of NAMI Massachusetts and will participate in the walk to bring attention to mental health issues and support individuals who are struggling as well as their families. Boston 25 News reporter Evan White recently spoke with a frontline helpline worker with NAMI who has been answering calls for help throughout the pandemic.

Jill Gichuhi works with a small team as part of the COMPASS Helpline out of a Charlestown office that has operated throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

In March of 2020, call volume dropped significantly, just 122 calls, according to NAMI.

In September, Gichuhi says calls began to rise again, around 200, by March 2021, there were 243.

According to a CDC report surveying adults throughout the United States in June of last year, 31% said they had symptoms of depression or anxiety, 13% of respondents began or increased use of substances, and just over a quarter reported symptoms of stress. The CDC report also showed 11% reported suicidal thoughts in the previous month, according to the report.

“These numbers are nearly double the rates we would have expected before the pandemic,” wrote Joshua A. Gordon, M.D. Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Everything is definitely more urgent now, people are honestly seeming more desperate,” Gichuhi said.

Each member of the Mass COMPASS Helpline for NAMI has experienced a mental health issue in their past, Gichuhi explained, for her, it was social isolation.

“We’re listening to a lot of people’s really challenging situations and their distress,” said Gichuhi.

COVID-19 certainly didn’t help preexisting feelings of isolation or depression but after hearing the news a week ago of zero deaths reported on one given day, Gichuhi saw a clear reason for optimism.

“Honestly, I teared up,” Gichuhi recalled.

The Massachusetts Association for Mental Health concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘is generating a mental health pandemic,’ in a June 2020 report on behavioral health outcomes.

Aside from COVID-related calls, many dialed the helpline because of housing concerns and a lack of access to mental health treatment.

Boston 25 News will join NAMI on Saturday to support mental health awareness for all and raise funds for their programs. You can sign up for NAMI’s “Walk your way” event and learn about mental health resources here.