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San Francisco Suicide Prevention Seeing Record Surge In Calls During Coronavirus Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Less than a month after the coronavirus shelter-in-place order began in the Bay Area, mental health officials in San Francisco reported seeing record surges of calls about depression, anxiety and loneliness.

As of Wednesday, 17 people have died from the coronavirus in San Francisco. From March 1 to April 14, 12 people have taken their own lives. KPIX spoke to someone who suffers from depression with a hopeful message for those who may need to hear it.

John-Paul Strom says he has suffered from depression for years, but this past week was one of the hardest he's had during this pandemic. "Well, I'm stir-crazy, but aren't we all?" Strom said.

Like everyone else, he's been confined to his home for weeks, which doesn't help those feelings of isolation and darkness that people with depression may already battle on a daily basis.

"A lot of negativity, a lot of the kind of thoughts and feelings like, if I'm busy or I'm out in the world, I can sort of tune out," Strom said. "When you're all alone in your room, they are right there with you."


But Strom is focusing on hope and love rather than fear and hate. "I'm trying to look at it as: 'This too shall pass.'"

Unfortunately, that's not the case for everyone. Van Hedwall, LMFT, with San Francisco's Suicide Prevention, says high-risk calls, or those that may need emergency services sent to them, are at an all-time high, up almost 30% in just the last week and a half.

"Specifically, for as long as we shelter in place, I think people have more time to think. I think people become more isolated," Hedwall says.

Callers experiencing anxiety and loneliness are also up almost 30% and have incrementally increased as this shelter-in-place order has been in effect. Hedwall says isolation and lack of sleep are the most common contributors to suicidal thoughts. But there's help available for nearly any concern one may have during this health crisis.

"We will talk to anyone," Hedwall said. "We will talk to people who are having suicidal ideation and are really at that edge. We'll also talk to folks in crisis, and folks that are at a lower range of risk."

And Strom's words of advice: "Just remember that that's what depression does to you; it closes the blinds and locks you in the basement. And it will pass and you are worth it to survive that period."

Callers citing financial concerns and fear over becoming homeless are also up beyond typical numbers. Financial concerns are up 15% at an all-time high. For immediate access to help for a variety of issues, call 211.

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