Klinic needs help as Winnipeg volunteer pool halved, staff struggle to keep up with calls

The holidays are nearing and Winnipeg’s Klinic is expecting a seasonal bump in calls, but its crisis management team is already struggling to keep up with demand.

Klinic Community Health’s volunteer pool has dropped by 50 per cent during the pandemic, and as a result, roughly four in five calls for support are going unanswered, said crisis management director Sandy Fotty.

“We’re not able to keep up with the same amount of the calls that we did pre-pandemic,” said Fotty.

“Staff are really great and they’re doing their best, and they’re trying to cover all the shifts so that we have enough people to answer the calls that are coming in, but it has been really tough.”

Recently relocated to Sherbrook Street, just south of Broadway, Klinic offers a range of mental, sexual and reproductive health supports to the community.

Experts warn that mental health challenges are on the rise across Canada during the widespread closures ushered in by COVID-19.

The Canadian Mental Health Association recently did a study that found 40 per cent of respondents reported their mental health had deteriorated since March. That number shoots up to about 60 per cent for those without a job.

Klinic saw a 10 per cent increase in calls this spring when the pandemic arrived in Manitoba, Fotty says.

“Most people were concerned about the unknown and lots of people were already experiencing things like anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and everything about COVID just increased those things.”

New system, new problem

Volunteers typically help field calls, but Fotty says their number of helpers halved over time, as Manitobans moved to work from home.

A recently revamped phone system enables the community hub to receive more calls, but unfortunately there aren’t enough people around to pick up the phones.

The new system also tracks missed call volumes, and Fotty said for everyone one that’s answered, four aren’t.

That gulf could widen over the winter break, when Klinic usually sees a bump in calls. 

“That’s really concerning to us,” said Fotty. “People aren’t gathering like they would normally do, or celebrating like they would normally do, so that is a loss for people.… We expect that the numbers will reflect that.”

That’s why the charitable, non-profit organization is currently seeking donations to purchase devices, namely computers, so staff and volunteers at home can continue their important work.

“As people who answer the lines, we rely on each other for support to do that job, and so for us to create a remote work experience, it does take that technology,” said Fotty.

Holiday health struggles

Klinic aims to provide support for people experiencing feelings of suicidal ideation or other mental health challenges, whether the person affected is the caller themselves or someone they know.

There are myriad reasons someone might have those feelings during the pandemic, such as a sense of overwhelming and unbearable psychological pain and loss of hope. But Fotty says there are ways Manitobans can help anyone experiencing those feelings at this time of year.

“The best thing that you can do is listen to them with compassion and without judgment, and that can be really hard when someone you care about is struggling and you just want to make it better,” said Fotty.

“If you feel like you aren’t able to do that, or you need some support in how to do that, we can talk to you on our lines about how to have those conversations, as well as if you are the person struggling.”

A list of crisis support resources is available on Klinic’s website.

Klinic’s 24-7 crisis line is 204-786-8686, or toll free at 1-888-322-3019. The Manitoba Suicide Prevention & Support Line’s round the clock supports are available at 1-877-435-7170 or at reasontolive.ca.

For general health questions and concerns, Klinic recommends contacting Health Links at 204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257.

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