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Help Line taking more mental health calls

The Citizens' Voice - 11/22/2022

Nov. 22—Help Line has been taking more calls from people with mental health issues since First Hospital in Kingston and its affiliated outpatient treatment offerings closed, Help Line director Aimie Voelker said.

Voelker, who recently became Help Line's director after long-time director Tom Foley retired, said Help Line started to see a big increase in mental health calls in late September after Community Counseling closed.

"We are not even to the end of November yet and we are already seeing an approximate 38% increase in mental health calls from September until November," Voelker said. "The projected increase by the end of the month would be closer to a 50% increase."

This year marks the 50-year-anniversary of Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Help Line program, which was established after the 1972 Agnes Flood.

Earlier this year, Help Line immediately assumed the responsibility of handling after-hours crisis calls and now takes daytime calls to assist in referral services for mental health calls which have increased dramatically after First Hospital and its affiliates closed, Voelker said.

"We were assigned to help transition those clients to finding new services if they needed that," she said. "For individuals who are looking for services and don't know where to turn to, we are helping them find those services on an information and referral basis."

Some places that Help Line caseworkers refer people with mental health issues include Northeast Counseling Services, which has offices in Wilkes-Barre, Nanticoke and Hazleton and the Robinson Counseling Center in Wilkes-Barre, an affiliate of Children's Service Center which now accepts adults as patients as well, Voelker said.

Northeast Counseling also has reopened The Greenhouse Center Clubhouse in Wilkes-Barre for people with mental illnesses, she said.

She said Help Line recently received a $53,000 grant from the state Recovery Rising that allowed it to expand its "Warmline" services that allows people to call and speak with someone with lived experience.

Caseworker Claire Holly serves on the Warmline team and takes calls Wednesday through Sunday while caseworker Rosalina Breton takes calls Monday through Friday in English and Spanish.

Holly, a Wilkes-Barre resident, said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and can relate to people talking to her about issues like anxiety and depression.

While other caseworkers talk to people in crisis situations, she takes calls from people who are struggling with mental health issues and need to talk.

"When people are telling me about their depression or their anxiety, I have a pretty good idea of what they're talking about," Holly said. "I don't know the depth of their pain but I have a pretty good idea."

Holly talks to callers about her own experiences with the mental health system and what helped her recover.

She said some of her callers are lonely and having a bad day and might just need someone to talk to. Some are nervous about getting their medication and treatment since Community Counseling closed, she said. One caller formerly talked to a therapist every day and now calls and talks to Holly.

"People are just full of anxiety," Holly said. "My first question is what is on your mind? With most people lately, it's anxiety, the anxiety of the unknown and not knowing what's going to happen to them with their treatment. People don't know where to go."

Holly, who works out of an office in Pittston Twp., said she uses a technique called "personal medicine" to offer advice about things that people could do to make themselves feel better. She said what makes her feel better are sewing, her dog and music.

"It could be painting. It could be going for a walk. It could be cooking dinner," she said. "Personal medicine is very individualized because it's about you. It's not about anyone else but what can work for you."

Contact the writer:, 570-821-2115, @CVAllabaugh


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