EveryMind, a Rockville nonprofit, is looking for volunteers to help answer crisis calls due to increased volume during the COVID-19 pandemic.

EveryMind is also preparing for when the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number changes to 988, from 800-273-8255. The change will occur on July 16, 2022.

The pandemic not only disrupted daily life in the United States, it also exacerbated a mental health crisis among U.S. youth. Rates of depression and anxiety continue to soar in teens and adults, showing an increased need for mental health support.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week shows a troubling trend in U.S. adolescent mental health due to the pandemic.

In 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescents ages 12 to 17 increased 31% from the prior year. The report also found that suicide attempts among adolescent girls increased more than 50% during the pandemic.

Rachel Larkin, the director of crisis prevention and intervention services at EveryMind, said in an interview that in the past year, call volume has increased more than 30% — showing not only an increased need for mental health support, but a need for more people answering the phone lines, texts and chats.

EveryMind is a nonprofit organization that provides mental health support and resources to anyone in the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia region. It has been serving the region for more than 60 years.

“We understand what’s happening in the region,” Larkin said. “We understand what the local resources are. … Sometimes, we get calls that will roll over from Texas or California, because there are not enough people to answer. So, the more people we have locally answering, the more people we can help locally.”

The staff members and volunteers who work the crisis prevention and intervention hotline answer calls and texts from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Montgomery County Hotline, the Youth Crisis Hotline and the Homeless Hotline.

EveryMind also welcomes calls from people who are feeling down, lonely, isolated or having a bad day and would like to chat.

EveryMind’s hotline staff and volunteers also respond to its own chat line: http://www.every-mind.org/chat.

Sue-Ann Siegel, a crisis counselor and hotline specialist for EveryMind, said that in the past year, she has noticed the age of callers decrease, most notably on the suicide lifeline. She said she recently answered a lifeline call from a 9-year-old.

“We got a lot of callers of just kids just missing school. … I just remember as a student, you couldn’t wait till vacation. But this [the pandemic] didn’t become a vacation to these students,” said Siegel, who has worked at EveryMind for nine years. “And even for some students … [a school meal] was their best meal of the day.”

Siegel, who started as a volunteer at EveryMind, later became part of the hotline staff. She said many of her coworkers started as volunteers.

Volunteers should have an open mind and good listening skills, and be willing to learn and work on a team, Siegel said.

A mental health background is not required. “In my nine years, I’ve seen all different backgrounds. I mean, I’ve seen a retired librarian,” she said.

Volunteers go through intense training, Larkin said.

Training is 70 hours total, 10 hours per week, but can be done completely virtually. When they graduate, volunteers are expected to work at least one four-hour shift per week for a year.

Larkin said that around 50% of people pass the training. Siegel emphasized that not everyone may be cut out to work at a crisis hotline — some might find that the work triggers stress, anxiety or trauma.

While volunteers are especially needed for the EveryMind hotline, the nonprofit has other volunteering opportunities in mental health education, assisting low-income residents and spending time with older adults in Montgomery County.

People interested in helping can visit EveryMind’s volunteering webpage or email volunteer@Every-Mind.org.

Siegel said volunteer work and training has made her a better wife, mother, friend, and overall human being. “To help someone just have a better day is a gift,” she said.

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In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone number is 800-273-8255 (TALK). The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK).

Warning sides of suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

If someone exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from medical or mental health professionals

Source: Reportingonsuicide.org; Montgomery County