Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

Thousands of Michiganders have turned to the state’s new peer warmline and counseling hotline to help weather the pandemic.

MICHIGAN — An 87-year-old Michigander living with schizophrenia found out recently that her certified peer support specialist had passed away. Thanks to Michigan’s mental health hotlines, she was able to talk about the grief of losing her strongest supporter with peers who understood her situation.

Another woman feared losing her pet because her financial situation had grown to a point of desperation that she was unsure she could keep the animal she loved. Peer support from Michigan’s hotlines was able to connect her to pet pantries in her area and helped her deal with the sadness and anxiety she felt as a result of that desperation. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this May in particular has been a trying time as it relates to the psychological and emotional wellbeing of Michiganders. 

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Two hotlines operated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have been providing support for residents struggling with isolation and fear created by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Michigan Stay Well Counseling (1-888-535-6136, option 8) connects callers to counselors 24/7, and the PEER Warmline (1-888-733-7753) helps Michiganders with mental illnesses talk to people who can relate to their challenges from 10 a.m. – 2 a.m. daily.

The warmline has received calls from more than 3,000 people, almost 90% of whom were looking for support. About a hundred Michiganders have contacted the Stay Well line, a quarter of whom have received crisis counseling and a third of whom have gotten educational information.

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Both lines are relatively new. The warmline began operation in April, while the Stay Well line opened last week. Peers and counselors receive training that includes how to manage their own wellbeing, said MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin.

“Parts of all the trainings are about learning about the emotional aspects of disaster and about expected reactions and ways to do self-care,” she told The ‘Gander. “Also, there are supervisors available for all workers and ways to process calls and have supervisors assist for any stressful calls. During leadership meetings, any issues that might arise are discussed.”

MDHHS is also reminding its staff to pay attention to their own self-care. In addition, they’ve continued promoting Mental Health Awareness Month through things like videos posted to the Stay Well website and linking messaging about the awareness campaign to the pandemic in social media posts. 

Because the Stay Well line is so new, counselors are still figuring out specific approaches and details of the work, but Sutfin said that they are willing and eager to offer a helping hand to Michiganders struggling in these uncertain times. The pandemic has made life harder and more stressful, and that has been felt by Michiganders.

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“Like everywhere around the globe, we are facing unprecedented times with Stay Home, Stay Safe orders, fears about the virus, loss and other challenges including the economic impact of the pandemic,” Sutfin said. “These are times of stress with much uncertainty. Michigan is working hard to address the stressors by developing these crisis resources.”

As such, she encouraged Michiganders feeling the strain to reach out. Getting peer or counselor support before an emotional crisis can help prevent despair or anxiety from overtaking a person. 

“One needs not be in crisis to get emotional support and resources,” she said. “Getting ahead of one’s emotional wellbeing can help avoid worsening situations. Just reach out — that is why these resources are there.”