RALEIGH — Many North Carolinians find themselves feeling grief, anxiety or depression these days, and experts say mental-health issues from the coronavirus pandemic are not unlike those seen during natural disasters.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in 2018, said Kody Kingsley, deputy secretary for behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, trained crisis counselors provided emotional support to more than 200,000 residents of coastal counties. Now, the helpline — called “Hope4NC” — is available to people in all 100 counties. While becoming infected still remains a concern, Kingsley said the psychological effects of isolation and financial stress can’t be ignored.
“If you are an older person who is already relatively isolated but had your one thing that you did every week that helped you connect with community, and now that’s gone, you know? In the end, what I think is really core for us to know is that behavioral health is not an add-on. Behavioral health is essential to health,” he said.
Kingsley said counselors are trained to help individuals normalize their experiences during the pandemic, get access to additional resources, and build resiliency. The ‘Hope4NC’ helpline number is 1-855-587-3463, and it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because helpline staff is able to make referrals to community-based counselors, Kingsley said, there’s an opportunity beyond the pandemic for people to seek to help for mental-health issues they’ve had, or haven’t been aware of until now.
“I think this is a great opportunity for North Carolina to address longstanding mental-health issues that are really going to just be brought to the surface by COVID-19,” he said.
Online resources and information on staying physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic also can be found at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.