New support line created for people struggling with pandemic hardships

With the novel coronavirus continuing to proliferate around the world, more and more people are suffering from a different kind of pandemic: mental health and substance abuse disorders.

In response, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health teamed up with the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services to create 844-SC-HOPES, an anonymous 24/7 support line for those who are struggling to cope with the numerous hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to mental health and addictions support, the hotline was also designed specifically to help healthcare workers and those suffering financial hardships. 

Deborah Blalock, deputy director of the DMH, said when people began to practice social distancing in early March, some were disconnected from their support groups, which sometimes results in a relapse. 

“If people are isolated, if people can't reach their support groups, then they're going to perhaps drink or use other substances,” Blalock said. “We knew that for the mental health population, that being isolated may increase depression.”

Many people are facing increased anxiety over their own personal health, job security, and the wellbeing of their loved ones, Blalock said.  

In a matter of weeks, the new support line was set up in collaboration with local providers and licensed mental health and substance abuse counselors. A healthcare outreach team was created to serve healthcare workers who are struggling with the stressors caused by battling the virus firsthand. 

The SCDMH provides care regardless of a person’s ability to pay but people do receive a bill. Blalock said a grant covers the costs of services. 

Sara Goldsby, director of the DAODAS, said in addition to the SC Hopes hotline, many of the traditional services provided by the DMH and the DAODAS have been moved online, so that people do not miss out on support, as they practice social distancing. 

“People don't need to feel disconnected and isolated,” Goldsby said. “All of the treatment services that folks would typically receive at our county alcohol and drug authorities are available by telehealth and by telephone; and this main support line that's accessible to any South Carolinian is that connection to those services. We really want people to be reaching out to connect.”