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As more British Columbians experience a strain on their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to the Vancouver Island Crisis line have risen too.

“People are becoming more aware that we’re there to support, and to put people in contact with mental health services with whom we’re affiliated throughout the Island,” said Joanne Hogan, office and promotions administrator of Vancouver Island Crisis Society.

Results from a new survey released on Wednesday by the Pacific Blue Cross say that a majority of British Columbians are unaware of mental health services, despite 37 per cent reporting feeling anxious or depressed.

However, 66 per cent are aware of crisis lines, and Hogan says that is reflected in a large number of calls during peak COVID-19 restrictions.

“From March 1 to April 29, we received 1,199 calls pertaining to the pandemic. Most are relating to feelings of anxiety,” she said.

“It was very difficult for people at first because in Phase 1 there was much more isolation. People are experiencing less isolation as things open up, and less anxiety about going out.”

The positive news is that there has been a drop in the number of calls as restrictions have loosened. During the month of October, 160 calls to the Vancouver Island Crisis line were related to the pandemic, comprising only 6 per cent of the total calls placed.

Overall, the Society has experienced a 5 percent rise in call volume compared to this time last year.

The province is starting to see a spike in calls from a second wave of the pandemic that could see renewed restrictions, but Hogan says the Society is better equipped now to handle increased calls.

“As we progress with training personnel, once they’ve moved on to a certain level, some services are available remotely,” she said. “Crisis workers are now able to work from home.”

She also says the Society has seen an increase in volunteers, as people find themselves with more free time.

The Society also recently received a $10,000 donation from the PBC Health Foundation to provide potentially life-saving services to residents on Vancouver Island.

This funding and other donations will help to ensure the crisis line can be properly staffed and respond to mental health crises in a timely manner.

“Crisis lines offer a community ‘safety net,’ playing a huge preventative role when people are in crisis and don’t know where to turn, particularly during a pandemic when we are reducing our social engagements,” said Sandra Boulianne, President, Board of Directors of the Crisis Line Association of BC and Executive Director, Crisis Centre for Northern BC.

The Vancouver Island Crisis Line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-494-3888. Text and chat services are also available on vicrisis.ca.