During my transitional period of post-graduation into the real world, I decided to test out other aspects of psychology rather than the traditional path of higher education blah blah blah. I began working for the largest psychology non-profit in the country (part-time) and would volunteer at another mental health non-profit near me. My volunteering consisted of:
- Sitting at a desk, answering calls for consecutive hours
- Lingering, waiting for someone to give me a ring
And as dull as it may sound, it wasn’t. If anything, it was one of the most constructive experiences of my brief life. Because these calls left me feeling an overabundance of strong emotions but allowed me to be aware of a massive, not often discussed, issue we have.
The HelpLine is a free national service in which anyone in need of mental health resources, assistance or simple conversation can call. Most calls consisted of patients, parents, or friends looking for resources pertaining to finding a nearby psychiatrist, mental health insurance, or clinics. Simple, easy search in our resources binder.
But the other calls.
These calls were the ones we were constantly warned of, the calls in which the desperation of the parent or friend caused me to panic. But if I panicked and they were in distress, who would help? We were told to maintain composure, think things through and attempt to find as much help as we could offer.
There were a few stories that stuck with me:
- We received an email from a concerned mother who explained a series of events that have led her to suspect the unwanted. Her child had begun showing symptoms of isolation and irritation. Increasingly he became more and more aggressive, to others and especially to her. The culmination of his aggression would consist of him throwing items and attacking. She would emphasize, I am mostly afraid for him, but now I’m afraid for myself. She sought help, but psychiatrists told her to take it easy, talk to him, etc. in other words, nothing useful. Eventually, medicine was recommended but he would enter a catatonic state that would steal his entire being. Medicine was stopped and things got worse. Her final concern was the acts of mutilation and killings of small animals he began to commit. And he enjoyed it. “What do I do?”
- The following story was common, too common: Parent/friend would call highly concerned. “I can’t find him/her, haven’t heard from them in days,” they would say. Their loved one had gone missing without a trace, no calls, no letters, nothing. To add to the issue, they had demonstrated symptoms of suicide. And these were some of the worst, because you could call hospitals and local police but they weren’t lawfully allowed to disclose personal information, which led to even more confusion and worry for the parent/friend. Most patients had a history of depression or psychotic incidents.
And always they would say, “we need more mental health help, there is not enough assistance in my state.” Mind you, this was nationwide, especially the mid-west. We all knew they were reaching out to us because this was it, we were their last resort, and if we couldn’t help, who would? Oftentimes people would call back and thank us, tell us the finality of the tale, most did not. And if you stop to think, this was a call center functioning from 9a-5p, what is happening at other times of the day? Who is out there that needs help but cannot easily find it?
We need more mental health awareness, de-stigmatization, and help. We NEED more help.
If you or anyone you know needs mental health assistance (legality, resources, insurance, psychiatric help and more), please call the NAMI hotline: