The last few months have been full of uncertainly and mixed emotions for West Virginians. In June, with many vaccinated, the COVID numbers were plunging and life was nearly back to normal. Then, the Delta variant hit. Rising cases, along with anger, blame, and political division, have contributed to increased stress.
HELP304, West Virginia’s emotional strength line, has seen a significant uptick in calls. In August, emotional support calls were 66% higher than in June. The program, which provides immediate access to crisis counselors, was introduced at the start of the pandemic to respond to COVID-related stress.
Program Director Steven Perry says helpline callers may not even mention the pandemic, but their areas of stress are often related to it. He noted that there is more uncertainty and division now than in the early days of the pandemic. He said, “For a while, no one was vaccinated, most gatherings were cancelled, and people were encouraged to stay home. Now, people are back to work and school, many in-person gatherings have resumed, though some are hesitant to attend, mask use is sporadic, vaccines are available, but many haven’t taken them, and all of this gives rise to animosity and anxiety.” He encourages anyone who wants to talk about their anxiety and get tips for dealing with stress to call the helpline. He said, “There may be things you are worried about that you aren’t comfortable discussing with friends or family. We won’t judge you. We’re here to listen and help.”
HELP304 is supported by Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) and West Virginia Department of Health and Humans Resources (DHHR) and is operated by First Choice Services. The line provides 24/7 support that can be accessed by calling 1-877-HELP-304 or by chatting online at HELP304.com. Online stress management groups are also available. All services are free and confidential.