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HELP304 crisis hotline sees increase in calls; uptick in COVID cases might be to blame

MORGANTOWN — After West Virginia crisis hotline HELP304 saw a spike in calls last month, the organization’s director said an increase in COVID-19 cases may be to blame.

The helpline reported a 66-percent increase in calls in August compared to June. Steven Perry, HELP304 program director, said the constantly changing environment and confusion surrounding guidelines and restrictions has likely contributed to the increase.

“… While the average caller may not immediately associate their distress with the pandemic, I think 18 months of just relentless adjustments to life, bad news, ‘doom scrolling’ as we call it, news reports every day, news feeds filled with just bad news, it takes a toll,” Perry said.

The helpline, supported by Federal Emergency Management Assistance and West Virginia Department of Health and Humans Resources was initially created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it was first implemented, Perry said calls were often related to uncertainty, fear, paranoia, and isolation. 

A year-and-a-half later, those stresses have shifted into emotional fatigue or the feeling that everyday, mundane tasks feel overwhelming.

Sheila Moran, director of marketing and communications for First Choice Services, which operates HELP304, said another common stress relates to interpersonal relationships. She said it is not uncommon for disagreements between friends and families about masks or COVID-19 vaccinations to be the reasoning behind a call.

“I think that that’s caused a lot of turmoil,” she said.

While many of the calls the center receives don’t directly relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moran said they are often indirectly connected.  Although initially created to help residents through COVID-19, the helpline is not exclusively for COVID-19-related stresses. Moran said it is also intended to knock down barriers to crisis services across the state.

“West Virginia has consistently been ranked as one of the least mentally healthy states by the CDC based on surveys that they’ve done,” Moran said. “That includes how often people are feeling unhappy, depressed, anxious, and I think also takes into consideration some of accessibility to mental health services.”

HELP304 also offers free emotional support groups online, known as Group304, at 6 p.m. Wednesdays. A student-only emotional support group is also available at 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Regardless of the reasoning, those who feel they would benefit from the helpline are encouraged to reach out. Perry said those who call into the helpline can expect counselors to assist them with coping skills, breathing techniques and meditation, along with different grounding techniques. 

The line provides 24/7 support and can be reached by calling 1-877-HELP-304, or via online chat at All services are free and confidential.

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