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Colorado's Crisis Service System sees big jump in calls for help, many pandemic-related

Hotline calls, texts up 33% from 2019 to 2020
Posted at 3:20 AM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 11:25:08-05

DENVER — Colorado's Crisis Service System is being slammed with requests for help, in large part, because of the pandemic.

Dr. Robert Werthwein, director of Colorado's Office of Behavioral Health, said phone calls and texts to the crisis hotline have jumped 33%.

He said in October 2020, there were nearly 25,000 calls and texts sent in, compared to 15,000 in October of 2019.

He said callers have been reaching out for help with "everything from depression, social isolation, anxiety around the pandemic, or life in general."

The Crisis Service System provides a crisis hotline, mobile services, stabilization units, walk-in centers and respite services.

2020 Colorado Crisis Line call and text volume:


While calls for help have gone up, Werthwein said actual walk-in service requests are down, also because of the pandemic.

He said clients want to avoid face-to-face contact with professionals, even if they're wearing masks, because they don't want to risk getting sick.

2020 walk-in services:


When asked if there were enough people on staff to help those in need, Werthwein said there wasn't at first.

"But we've added more resources since then," he sad. "Provided more funding to Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. They've added 80 staff."

A longtime client of crisis services, Michael Gallagher, told Denver7 more funding is needed.

"I know the crisis system," he said. "It needs support. It is saving lives. There is immense grief out there."

Gallagher said he has accessed the system frequently because of intense depression.

He also said he had suicidal ideations in the past and received help.

Gallagher said he's learned as much as he can about suicide, reading books and studying, both to help himself and others.

"I've been involved in suicide prevention for 27 years," he said.

He has a pet boa, which he said helps him focus.

"It's almost like I can't die, because this (snake) means so much to me," he said, while holding the python in his hands.

When asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on clients, Werthwein said there are two groups.

"There's a group where we've seen an increase in anxiety and depression due to social isolation, as well as just a fear of contracting COVID, and the fatality of it," he said. "But there's this other group that was receiving care before the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden there was no in-person care, and they were concerned about how they would access care if they can't go to an actual office."

Werthwein said in addition to trained professionals, Crisis Services involves the use of peer specialists, who have experienced issues themselves, and then have received training to help counsel others.

He said one of the peer specialist programs is for veterans.

"We don't know how successful it is yet, but we do know that it was something asked for by vets, so we wanted to deliver on that and make it available to other vets," he said. "They've given so much to us, we wanted to give back to them.

The director said they need to broaden services because of the pandemic.

"Right now, we have a request in to the Joint Budget Committee to fund virtual mobile services," he said. "We've seen some numbers go down because clients don't really want to have face-to-face interaction. They want to observe social distancing, so we've asked for some funding to create a virtual platform in which people can check in with others via mobile, instead of relying on face-to-face contact."

He said until extra funding comes through, some callers may have to wait a little longer to get needed help.

Gallagher said he's taken himself out of a call queue to let other callers get through, if their needs are more important.

Werthwein said crisis calls are prioritized.

He said everyone gets checked in, but calls involving safety are taken first.

"We just ask for a little bit of patience. It might take a little bit longer than it did before the pandemic, but we will have someone answer," he said.