Christian Calzar and Coreen Fahrenschon staff the crisis line at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer’s crisis line workers are busy dealing with multiple emergencies

Callers need everything from mental health counselling to their basic needs met

It’s cold, the days are short, and crisis lines are lighting up at Red Deer’s Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter.

On so-called Blue Monday this week, crisis workers dealt with 30 crisis calls, as well as seven walk-in clients, who were experiencing everything from domestic violence to housing issues.

“We had significant crisis calls and walk-ins… and we try to help as much as we can,” said Tosha Duncan, the shelter’s operations and client services manager.

“We have an outreach team and a crisis line. It’s been incredibly busy …”

The 222 crisis line calls so far this month have already surpassed the 180 received in the entire month of January 2018 and are on pace to match the 270 calls received in December.

Duncan said crisis workers hear from a wide array of people on the help line (1-888-346-5643) — “from those who have a basic need for groceries and housing, to individuals who are in crisis, struggling with domestic violence or mental illness.”

Great efforts are made to find shelter beds for women in danger from violence. As the shelter always has a waiting list, Duncan added this frequently means finding safe beds at other Alberta women’s shelters.

Callers with child-related or family issues will hear about children’s healing and parenting programs, while those needing help with housing, income supports, or mental health issues are referred to appropriate agencies, said Duncan.

Although the pseudo-science behind the third Monday of January being dubbed Blue Monday, or the most depressing day of the year, has largely been debunked, mental health experts believe January is a difficult month for many people to get through.

Christine Stewart, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Red Deer office, noted that holiday bills are coming in, people are getting less exercise because the days are short and cold — and spring still seems far away.

Many central Albertans are also beset by financial problems in this tough economy.

“Finances could be a huge piece of the puzzle,” said Stewart. “We are referring people to the food bank who have never before had to use a food bank…”

The association hears from so many callers with critical mental health issues that the group has hired a trained counsellor to meet this rising demand.

Starting on Jan. 28, this clinician will be available to offer immediate support to people who aren’t sick enough to be hospitalized, but can’t wait for their next scheduled counselling appointment, said Stewart.

While winter can be bleak, she stressed that mental health issues are a year-round problem. And association stats bear this out — more callers contacted the organization in June and July of 2018 than in January 2018.

Dawne Adkins, a grief recovery specialist at Suicide Information and Education Services of Red Deer, wants people who are suffering from depression or other forms of mental illness to know that many supportive programs and counselling services are available to them — starting with the 24-hour mental health line at 1-877-303-2642.

Adkins’s group also gets direct daytime calls and refers people to counselling — including one-on-one or group sessions, as well as free counselling.

The organization also runs grief support groups — not only for those who have lost loved ones, but those who have experienced any kind of loss, from a lay off, to the loss of a pet, or the loss of health.

“Anyone who needs to talk, or doesn’t know where to turn or look for a referral, we can help.”

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