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The Children and Family Assistance Line is free to all Richland County residents and can be reached at 567-333-8455. 

MANSFIELD -- As the spread of COVID-19 continues to have a massive impact on our daily lives, mental health experts have voiced concern about rising levels of stress. 

With this in mind, the Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board has introduced a new helpline for children and families. The Children and Family Assistance Line is free to all Richland County residents and can be reached at 567-333-8455

The line is funded by the county mental health board and staffed by eight counselors and case managers from Family Life Counseling and Psychiatric Services. It’s open every day from 8 am to 11 pm.

“We are seeing a need for the behavioral health system to be available to the community as we encounter many new situations,” said Joe Trolian, executive director of Richland County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. 

“We have parents that suddenly find themselves homeschooling, adolescents that are away from their peers, sports and other activities, adults that are hoping they will be able to return to work soon, people that are isolated from their families and their support systems.”

Counselors can help parents with age-appropriate strategies for handling child behavioral issues as well as strategies for coping and self-care. They can also act simply as a listening ear when someone needs to talk.

Amanda Soliven, director of the helpline, stated the helpline is meant to be a place for parents, adolescents and children to discuss their problems, fears and anxieties in a confidential setting. 

“They can expect staff to listen with compassion and without judgement, offer support and kindness, to help those who call identify coping skills, connect to resources and to provide ongoing support as needed,” she said.

Soliven described the assistance available through the helpline as similar to a counseling session, but somewhat easier to access. 

“In many ways, the interventions offered on the assistance line would be what our counselors and case managers would do in session,” said Soliven. “The assistance line, though, offers quick access to qualified professionals who can help on the spot, instead of having to go through all the paperwork and wait for an appointment to talk to someone who can help.”

“While a therapy session has the advantage of forming a deeper relationship and working on underlying issues, this line's advantage supplies quick access to professional help without cost or wait times,” she added.

The line went live on April 14. Trolian said that depending on how much it is used, it may continue to run even after the COVID-19 outbreak subsides. 

Soliven said the response has been positive so far.

“Those who have called state they plan to call back again,” she said. “We are looking forward to serving many more as word spreads."

Other mental health helplines are also still operating. They include the Crisis Help Line at 419-522-4357 (HELP), the Warm Line at 419-522-5300, the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and the Crisis Text Line (text “4HOPE” to 741741).

“We want to make sure the community knows that the behavioral health system is open, functioning and here to help all residents,” Trolian said.

While the healthcare field will experience a “surge” of clients when COVID-19 cases peak, mental healthcare workers are preparing for a post-peak surge. Trolian expects that many who are in “crisis mode” now will turn to mental health counseling later, when they have time and space to process all that’s happened over the past few weeks.

“What we find is that once people move out of a crisis mentality is when they come seeking our services,” said Trolian.

Soliven is optimistic that the COVID-specific helpline model could be replicated in other communities.

“Take a look at your community, identify a need and see how that matches up with your agency's strengths,” she advised. “Once you have found a real need to meet you won't have any trouble getting others on board to help make it a reality!”

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