A Thunderbird carving by Andrew Mack commemorates Kuu-us Crisis Service’s 25th anniversary. It sits on a pedestal on the Kuu-us grounds at the corner of Johnston Road and Adelaide. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

A Thunderbird carving by Andrew Mack commemorates Kuu-us Crisis Service’s 25th anniversary. It sits on a pedestal on the Kuu-us grounds at the corner of Johnston Road and Adelaide. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Port Alberni crisis line sees spike in calls during COVID-19

Kuu-us Crisis Line Society provides support

Port Alberni’s Kuu-us Crisis Line Society has seen a spike in calls since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kuu-us, based out of Port Alberni, offers a 24-hour crisis line for mental health issues and crises to community members in the Alberni Valley and the West Coast, as well as Indigenous people across the province.

Kuu-us has recorded a 142 percent spike in calls related to loneliness and a 40 percent increase in calls related to anxiety and depression compared to this time last year. The crisis line is also experiencing a 198 percent rise in call volume relating to addictions compared to this time last year.

Support worker Kateri Deutsch says the pandemic is “definitely” a factor when it comes to this jump in calls.

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“At the beginning of this, I think we all thought we would be in lockdown for a couple weeks,” said Deutsch. “It’s been a lot longer than that. I think people are starting to feel the despair of when is it ever going to end?”

Kuu-us isn’t the only organization seeing a change in numbers. According to a new survey by Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the second wave of the pandemic has intensified feelings of stress and anxiety and increased levels of despair, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness among British Columbians.

As winter approaches, 42 percent of British Columbians who filled out the survey said that their mental health has deteriorated since March. More than a third of British Columbians (36 percent) are worried about finances. Thirteen percent of people surveyed in British Columbia indicated that they have increased their use of substances as a way to cope.

One in 10 Canadians (10 percent) are experiencing recent thoughts or feelings of suicide—up from six percent in the spring and 2.5 percent throughout pre-pandemic 2016.

“We’re definitely seeing a rise in calls related to loneliness, addiction,” said Deutsch. “Especially from elders, who would normally have services come in to them in person. We’re definitely seeing it more in rural communities, where all of the services that are offered are closed.”

In Port Alberni, Kuu-us has had to “revisit” some of the outreach services they offer. Their hot meal program, for example, has been stopped. They have instead partnered with other agencies to form a COVID-19 Community Response Team.

“We travel in a convoy every day to hand out essentials where [the people are] at,” said Deutsch.

Kuu-us staff have also been adjusting to the increased numbers. Debriefing services are available to all staff, and there is a strong focus on self-care, said Deutsch.

“We don’t want anyone to experience burnout,” she added.

Recently, Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation made a $10,000 donation to the Kuu-us Crisis Line Society to continue to provide this potentially life-saving service to Indigenous people across British Columbia. The funds will be used in the Kuu-us crisis department to support staff on the crisis line and callers.

“We think it’s a wonderful gift,” said Deutsch.

The pandemic, said Deutsch, has shown just how important crisis lines can be. For some people, it’s their only lifeline for support. There are many “wonderful counsellors” across the province, said Deutsch, but many of them are busy—especially in the middle of a pandemic.

“When you’re waiting for your appointment with a counsellor, it’s sometimes nice to have someone on the other side of the line,” said Deutsch.

Kuu-us provides support to all community members in the Alberni Valley and on the West Coast, as well as Indigenous people all across B.C. The crisis line can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll free from anywhere in B.C. at 1-800-588-8717. Alternatively, individuals can call the youth line at 250-723-2040 or the adult/elder line at 250-723-4050.

“We’d never, ever turn a caller away,” said Deutsch.

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