The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new stressors and anxieties to the lives of Arizonans. From financial hardship and job loss to academic stress and isolation, many face the psychological impacts of the pandemic head-on, sometimes with no one to turn to.

But as the pandemic wears on, and the demand for individual emotional and mental health support increases, one free counseling program continues to answer the call.

The Resilient Arizona Crisis Counseling Program – a free, statewide crisis counseling program started in June 2020 – helps Arizonans recover from the psychological effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

By dialing 211, callers are connected with a crisis counselor in their area where they can receive emotional support, learn about effective coping skills, and connect with other resources in their communities.

Compared to traditional mental health counseling, which implies assistance to individuals with a diagnosable disorder, crisis counseling seeks to prevent the onset of diagnosable disorders by helping individuals understand they are experiencing common reactions to extraordinary circumstances.

“Not since the Spanish flu pandemic of the early 1900s has there been a situation like this,” said Thomas Bond, communications director for Solari Crisis & Human Services in Tempe, which oversees the program.

“We help people deal with these situations and understand that they’re normal reactions to, in our lifetimes, unprecedented situations,” he said.

Chris Anderson, public health initiatives manager for Solari Crisis & Human Services, said Resilient Arizona focuses on restoring people’s “inherent resiliency factors” that have been challenged or compromised because of the pandemic.

“With most disasters, the goal behind public efforts to restore quality of life, businesses and infrastructure is to enhance resiliency – that ability for an individual or a community to spring back, in many cases stronger. So we’re really trying to focus on individual resiliency, and how we can empower people to bounce back,” Anderson said.

It’s not over

To date, the Resilient Arizona program has provided crisis counseling services to more than 11,700 Arizonans, and typically sees over 500 referrals to their statewide providers each month.

While the call volume has remained consistent throughout the pandemic, especially related to financial hardships or unemployment, some of the reasons people seek out counseling services have shifted overtime, Anderson said.

Early on, a majority of folks were dealing with “the quarantine effect” of prolonged separation and isolation, Anderson said. But as social distancing restrictions were lifted across the state, and more Arizonans succumbed to the virus, those calls were eclipsed by requests for grief counseling after the loss of a family member or friend.

Anderson anticipates that the needs of Arizonans will continue to shift as time goes on, but doesn’t see the need for this type of service going away.

“We’re dealing with something that rocked society and individuals to the core just over a year ago, and those vibrations and echoes are still being felt in people’s lives today,” Anderson said.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, and we anticipate very long-term ramifications to the mental health of Arizonans for years to come,” he said.

The program, which is grant-funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), was originally slated to end in June 2021, but additional funding and ongoing demand have extended its end date to Dec. 2.

Program organizers and stakeholders are actively looking for additional funding opportunities to sustain the program, but Anderson said even if Resilient Arizona ends, 211 services will continue to connect people with vital resources and support in their communities.

But while it’s free, and while it’s still going, Anderson encourages anyone who may need help to simply pick up the phone.

“This program really is for everyone. I think a lot of people have stereotypes of what mental health looks like, in themselves and in those they care about. I just encourage people to take a look at how the pandemic has impacted your own life,” he said.

“There’s absolutely no shame in admitting that we just need to talk through the stresses that we’ve all experienced over the last year. In order to help others, we’ve got to put the life jacket on ourselves first.”

Mary Glen Hatcher | 520-547-9740

Mary Glen is a North Carolina native who's excited to explore the Tucson area through her reporting with Green Valley News. She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media in 2019.

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