State launches ‘Hope’ campaign as Hoosiers seek mental health, social services in huge numbers

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Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Indiana hotlines for suicide, gambling and substance abuse have been racking up record volumes in recent weeks, reflecting the growing worry and feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials said Friday.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, in his daily press conference, acknowledged a potential mental health crisis across the state and said he is committed to offering services to Hoosiers who are feeling troubled. He called the campaign “Hope and Health.”

“As we sail through this storm together, we want everyone to know that there are folks who will deal with the troubles some are keeping inside,” he said. “We want to work with you.”

The growing load on social services comes as the statewide death toll from the pandemic hit 102 as of Thursday evening, while the number of Hoosiers who tested positive for COVID-19 grew 3,4,37. In the meantime, state officials said the peak is likely still weeks away.

The unrest also comes as thousands of Hoosiers have filed unemployment claims and the state has ordered non-essential businesses to remain closed for weeks to keep the virus from spreading. Gov. Holcomb on Friday extended his stay-at-home order for another two weeks, through April 17.

All that has pushed Indiana’s social service hotlines to unprecedented levels, said Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

She said calls to the 2-1-1 hotline for health, human and social services have increased from 1,000 on a typical busy day to as many as 25,000 calls a day. Many of those calls are related to mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.

Calls to state gambling hotlines have increased from an average of about 30 a month to more than 220 this week alone, she said. Calls to substance abuse hotlines have increased from 20 a week to 20 a day. Two social service agencies in southwest Indiana have seen a 50% increase in crisis calls.

“We’ve seen some alarming statistics in Indiana over the last few weeks that are indicative that our collective psyche is increasingly fragile,” said Sullivan, who is also an emergency physician.

The state’s “Hope and Health” campaign consists of three parts, all designed to help connect Hoosiers with needed social services. First, the state said it is working to increase flexibility for treatment providers, encouraging them to use telehealth to connect Hoosiers with needed mental health services.

Second, the campaign will spread a message that it’s normal to feel disrupted and disoriented, but help is available by calling 2-1-1. Sullivan also urged Hoosiers to call their insurance companies to see if they can get access to therapy by phone or remote, to seek online services, and to talk to their doctors to see if medication is an option.

“This slowly unfolding, constantly changing, life- and livelihood-disrupting crisis is unlike anything we have ever seen and is going to cause many people to experience increased anxiety and depression,” she said.

Third, for those with substance-abuse disorders, Sullivan said, several 12-step programs have launched virtual meetings to help people stay connected, and recovery houses have kept their doors open.

Holcomb applauded neighborhood groups and community leaders who are trying to keep spirits up through programs such as waving from front porches and yards at designated times each day to hotels that are taking in health care providers that need to keep distance from families or otherwise need a place to stay.

“These are some ways we are getting through this together, lifting each other’s spirits up,” Holcomb said. “The more we do this together, the faster and safer we will get through this.”

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