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Pandemic redefines mental health 'crisis calls'

The Neighborhood Center


Prior to the pandemic, one in five Americans reported having some type of mental illness. Now, that number is up to 40% according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The isolation, uncertainty and insecurities of the pandemic have perpetuated the increase researchers and physicians have seen in mental illness diagnoses over the past few years. 

Kristin Sauerbier, executive director of The Neighborhood Center’s mental health crisis line, said that the increase in calls they’ve seen has reflected that trend. 

“We did see a very significant increase in crisis calls during COVID and just overall for the 2020 year, and then we've seen an additional increase for calls and assessments in 2021, thus far, for the year,” said Sauerbier. 

The Neighborhood Center’s 24/7 crisis line serves Oneida, Herkimer, Schoharie, Otsego, Chenango, and Delaware counties. In Oneida County, the center’s most populated coverage area, they’ve seen a substantial increase in crisis calls. 

From January 1 to April 30, there were 802 unique clients and 3,224 total calls. That’s a 13.6% increase in clients from that time period last  year and a 7.5% increase in calls. 

Sauerbier says the crisis line is not reserved just for people experiencing acute mental health situations, like thoughts of self-harm and suicide. She said it’s for anyone who needs a little help.

“Crisis is a very relative term, right,” she said. “What is a crisis to one person may not be a crisis to another.”

She said that while some of the calls they’ve had have been more acute, sometimes people just need someone to talk to and that’s what they’re here for. 

“It could be the day where you're just having a really difficult day and you happen to drop your keys by accident as you're walking from your car to your home, and that's just kind of the breaking point for you that day,” said Sauerbier. 

Counties outside of their coverage area have also been taking action to address the increase in mental distress within their communities. In March, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon announced a plan to provide mental health resources to students struggling with remote learning among other things. 

“There's no reason to be embarrassed if you need help, we all need to kind of step up and lead in the space so that people get the help they need,” said McMahon. 

Leaders in Madison County recently launched a mental health task force after they saw an uptick in calls to their crisis line.

“A lot of the calls and the new clients that we're getting requests for services from are people that have never had mental health treatment before,” said Teisha Cook, Madison County’s Director of Mental Health. 

She said that the calls their crisis line has been getting have been from a variety of callers. 

“I know early in the pandemic, we got a lot of calls during the school day from frazzled parents who couldn't corral their kids to do online schooling and we're frustrated,” said Cook. 

While teletherapy is growing in popularity, it can be costly and uncomfortable for many people who haven’t experienced symptoms of mental illness before. So, if you’re having a rough day and just need to talk it out, crisis lines like the Neighborhood Center’s are there to help. 

Neighborhood Center’s crisis line please call: 315-732-6228.

Madison County 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line: 315-366-2327

Onondaga, Oswego, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties: 211

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255


Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.