The Memphis Crisis Center Helps People Cope During the Pandemic

Feb 1 • 2022
Volunteers Help Provide Emotional First Aid at the Memphis Crisis Center

Callers Affected by a Variety of Issues Find Help With the Crisis Line

Mid-South residents are facing a lot of stressors — poverty, economic pressure from inflation, crime, gun violence, numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and simply feeling let-down after the holidays are over. All this is in addition to everyday life stress, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other mental health problems, such as depression.

The Memphis Crisis Center has been available through it all — since 1971 — to offer support for residents.

COVID-19 Has Added Layers of Stress, Isolation and Hardship

The pandemic has made people feel a sense of loss, even if they haven’t directly experienced the death of a friend or loved one. It’s the loss of a sense of normalcy and increased isolation that can be very difficult.

“Connection is so important to mental health. That can’t be overstated,” said Michael LaBonte, executive director of the Memphis Crisis Center.

With the pandemic, people need safe forms of connection. It’s important to check on neighbors and reach out to friends and family via phone or text, urged LaBonte.

“When people call us, it may not manifest directly as a COVID call, but it’s one of those underlying issues from COVID because people have been laid off, lost loved ones and are dealing with additional stressors,” said LaBonte. “A lot of people have felt isolated and that’s had an impact on calls we get.”

LaBonte said that he’s noticed a correlation between the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide calls, material needs calls and calls for mental health issues. He believes that the pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues for many people, particularly those who have lower income levels and fewer resources. Even people without existing mental health problems and financial issues have also had a tough time dealing with pandemic-related stress.

A recent study published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas indicated 32.8% of U.S. adults had elevated depressive symptoms in 2021, and 27.8% of adults experienced such symptoms in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. In comparison, only 8.5% of adults had elevated depressive symptoms before the start of the pandemic. The most significant predictors for depressive symptoms were having a low household income, being unmarried and experiencing multiple pandemic-related stressors.

“The past two years have been exhausting to individuals,” said LaBonte. “People are worn out. We’ve dealt with the pandemic, political uncertainty and economic fallout from the pandemic.”

Connecting With Those Who Need Help

The Memphis Crisis Center is an important resource for the community, especially now, but how do callers find the center? Often, it’s through online searches.

Since 2014, Baptist Memorial Health Care has provided a yearly grant to the center to enable them to reach people where they are with behavioral online targeting through Google searches.

“We cherish our relationship with Baptist Memorial Health Care,” said LaBonte. “Lives have been saved because of that relationship.”

When someone in the Memphis metro area uses Google to search for certain terms, the Memphis Crisis Center comes up in search results along with the phone number for the center. Some examples of these targeted search words are “how to kill myself” or “help with depression.”

The Google algorithm also includes COVID-related terms so that people dealing with difficulties from the pandemic may receive help too.

“We stay in contact with our media firm to make sure the search words are consistent with the needs of our community,” said noted LaBonte. “Multiple callers have told us, ‘Your call center came up and I decided to call.’”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Memphis Crisis Center at 901-CRISIS7 (901-274-7477) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).