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Montana launches new hotline to address COVID-19 struggles

December 1, 2020 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A new counseling hotline is available to help Montana residents struggling with their mental health during the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Tuesday.

The hotline is funded by a $1.6 million federal grant and will be available for at least the next nine months.

People can call 1-877-503-0833 to receive free and confidential counseling services from trained crisis counselors from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The new service is meant to help health care workers, first responders, school officials, veterans, the elderly, Native Americans, and farmers and ranchers but is available to all Montana residents, according to the governor’s office.

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The state Department of Public Health and Human Services partnered with Disaster and Emergency Services to pursue the grant to address the growing need for mental health services amid the coronavirus pandemic. The grant was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“As COVID-19 cases rise across Montana, the impacts on mental health can be devastating to a wide range of the population,” Zoe Barnard, administrator of the health department’s Addictive and Mental Disorders Division, said in a statement.

The health department is contracting with Mental Health America of Montana, a nonprofit organization, to manage the hotline, which will be staffed by 12 crisis counselors. Efforts are underway to hire two counselors who are tribal members.

The new hotline joined other existing resources, including the Montana Warmline, which provides non-emergency mental health support. That service received 689 calls and 2,500 clicks on their online chat service last month, over twice the number of contacts made in November 2019, Barnard told The Associated Press.

More than 63,000 people across Montana have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March, including over 1,000 new cases reported Tuesday. The true number is likely far higher because not everyone is tested and some people can be infected without showing symptoms.

The state has reported 698 deaths due to the virus, and nearly 500 people were hospitalized with it Tuesday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some — especially older adults and people with health problems — it can cause more severe illness and death.