WINCHESTER — Seven Shenandoah University students clocked in a total of 448 hours this semester listening to callers’ problems and worries on Concern Hotline, a Winchester-based crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization.
Danielle Kirby, 20, a junior majoring in psychology, said she’s noticed that many calls are related to a growing sense of loneliness caused by COVID-19.
“It’s a lot of lonely people that usually spend the holidays with their family,” she said.
Around Thanksgiving, the hotline received 80 calls, higher than its recent weekly average of 65 calls, said Charlie Franks, program coordinator of Concern Hotline. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Concern Hotline received about 40 to 50 calls per week.
Until a vaccine is widely available, Franks anticipates the number of callers will only increase.
The SU students involved with Concern Hotline volunteer as listeners through Clinical Helping Skills, a 400-level psychology course taught by Rodney Bragdon, who is also a board member for Concern Hotline. Bragdon has been teaching students how to participate with the crisis hotline for the past 2½ years.
Students get intensive training in active listening skills, crisis intervention — including suicide prevention — and providing appropriate local referrals to callers. After training is completed, each student is required to pass an assessment and then take a four-hour shift each week answering hotline calls for 16 weeks.
Currently, Concern Hotline has 35 consistent listening volunteers along with four other volunteers who substitute when needed.
Two of the seven SU students who volunteered this semester plan to continue volunteering with Concern Hotline, Franks said.
“It’s stressful,” said Deeanna Delcoco, 20, a junior psychology major, who said she planned to continue volunteering after the semester was over. “But it’s very rewarding.”
Delcoco said a volunteer’s job is to listen more than to actually give advice and to offer support for a caller in distress. Before she starts a shift, Delcoco said she hopes to hear from callers, not because she wants them to feel upset but because she wants them to take advantage of the resources at Concern Hotline to feel better.
The students agreed that the mental health of SU students has been of more concern on campus due to COVID-19. Volunteering for Concern Hotline has helped them better cope with their own mental health issues as well as identify and facilitate conversations about mental health struggles with their peers.
“I feel like all of us feel way more comfortable if we see someone struggling, like a peer,” said Lindsey Florio, 21. “Even if we don’t know them we feel more comfortable opening up that dialogue.”
For Florio, volunteering with Concern Hotline has helped her feel comfortable trying to get patients she works with in occupational therapy to open up to her. She said she’s more likely to connect her patients to resources and to understand them on a deeper level.
Franks added that the benefit of the collaboration between SU and Concern Hotline in recent years has been “immeasurable.”
“These students really do a great job,” she said. “They are very faithful and very responsible, and it’s nice to have a group of listeners that you can count on.”
For more information about Concern Hotline, visit concernhotline.org. Anyone who needs to talk with a trained Concern Hotline volunteer should call 540-667-0145.