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Baltimore, MD

Mental crisis hotline calls remain high in 2021 in Baltimore

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Kaleah Mcilwain
Kaleah Mcilwain

Edgar Wiggins, executive director of the Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. (BCRI), is doing all he can to make sure Baltimore residents know where to turn for mental health support.

He recalls his team helping a Baltimore woman who lived on her couch for a number of years. She couldn’t go outside, didn’t socialize with anyone, and had her groceries delivered. One day while watching tv she heard about the BCRI, and decided to call.

A BCRI crisis team went to her home, and brought her into their residential facility where during her stay she got the help she needed to get better.

Wiggins asked her why she waited so long to seek help and she said she did not know this kind of help was available and certainly did not think anyone would come to her home.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and Wiggins has made it his top priority to take every opportunity to make sure more people know about the BCRI and seek mental health support.

Wiggins explains that people often wait so long to reach out that by the time they seek help it’s turned into a crisis. “There are services like ours that will come out and see people and work with them and try and get them back on their feet,” said Wiggins.

Nationally, 1 in 5 adults (or 51.5 million people) will experience mental illness and 5% of those cases will be serious mental illness cases.

BCRI provides a full range of behavioral health crisis services. They offer a “Here2Help” Hotline, residential services for crises and addictive treatment, and a crisis team that does house calls and responds to traumatic events.

Its “Here2Help” Hotline is available 24 hours a day and on average they take about 35,000 calls a year. At any given time there are 5,000 people involved in treatment. And during the pandemic the types of calls and requests have varied.
(Elizabeth Unger/Behavioral Health System Baltimore)

Now the hotline receives calls about people who need advice on how to handle new situations that are coming up in the home. This ranges from parents stressed because their kids are home and learning virtually to frontline workers who are stressed and anxious about taking the virus home.

They have also received an influx of calls for people who just want a listening ear. “It’s all about people getting services that they need,” said Wiggins.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, calls to the hotline have doubled. There were 2772 calls in February 2020 and in July there were 5685 calls. The number of calls have remained very high throughout the rest of 2020 and 2021 so far,” said Elizabeth Unger, communications manager for the Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB), who interviewed BCRI in 2020.

Along with the hotline, BCRI has mobile crisis teams also available 24 hours a day. Mobile crisis teams go to people's homes and other community locations to provide assessments and interventions. These teams are made up of a licensed mental health professional and a registered nurse.

For crisis situations where someone needs to be admitted for treatment, BCRI has two residential services where people can come in for a short period of time and get the help they need--crisis beds and addiction treatment services.

With these short-term stays people can get the same services they would get inside of a psychiatric inpatient care, but the environment is more relaxed and community-based.

“They came up to me and offered to help. I didn’t listen at first but one man in particular was so caring and compassionate. I accepted his help and went to BCRI for residential care. Their peer support specialists on the unit can really relate because they’ve been where I am, they know what I’m dealing with,” said one of their testimonials.

The team also responds to traumatic events that happen in the Baltimore community like sudden deaths. Wiggins said these can have a ripple effect in the entire community so they send a team to provide a debriefing which mitigates the traumatic effect of the event.

Wiggins shared that they responded to a suicide in an edlerly highrise. They discovered that the suicide had impacted other residents suicidal ideations as well. Wiggins explained that because they responded to the initial event, they were able to support and care for others impacted in this situation and prevent more harm.

All year, and especially during Mental Health Awareness month, Wiggins advises people to prioritize their mental health just the same as their physical health. The same way people have an ache or pain and get in touch with their doctor; when people are not feeling the way that they have historically they do not think to turn to a therapist or a mental health organization.

“The bottomline to this is that concerns about mental health or mental illness is actually more normal than we think about because anything else that was affecting 20 to 25 percent of the population would be out there front and center but I think because of stigma because of misunderstanding and lack of education, people don’t talk enough about these issues,” said Wiggins.

He said mental health is a part of our overall health, it’s part of being a whole person.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate assistance you can call the Crisis Hotline at 410-433-5175.

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