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Calls to the Bozeman Help Center have increased 49% since the coronavirus appeared in Gallatin County two months ago.

In March, when businesses were ordered to close and unemployment claims rose dramatically, 82% of callers were looking for assistance with necessities such as food and housing.

In April, the calls shifted and the majority — 60% — were about mental health.

“This is a pretty normal flow during a disaster,” said Mandy St. Aubyn, the Help Center’s development and communications coordinator. “Food, shelter and financial security are at the forefront at the beginning, and then as the disaster progresses and there is no end in sight, mental health concerns become more apparent.”

Between March 8 and May 16, the Help Center received 2,143 calls.

“The call volume is definitely higher than we usually see at this time of year,” St. Aubyn said.

The Help Center, along with other health care providers in southwest Montana, is working to respond to the recent spike in requests for mental health services.

“Everyone is experiencing this pandemic differently and we want to be here for whatever situation or emotions they may be facing,” St. Aubyn said.

The Help Center, which can be reached at 2-1-1, provides callers with information about nearby support services, such as programs that provide rental assistance or counseling. It is one of four nonprofits across Montana that manages the statewide support system.

In addition to its regular services, the Help Center worked with Bozeman Health and Western Montana Mental Health Center to launch the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center.

The facility, which is in the Gallatin Mental Health Center, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and provides care to people who call the Help Center’s crisis line and require a higher level of care but don’t need to visit the emergency room.

“Our community has created urgent care services to provide immediate access to mental health services and mental health co-responder programs, which we hope will reduce fear of calling 911,” said Michael Foust, area director for Western Montana Mental Health Center, a nonprofit that operates in 15 counties.

The Help Center has also made its directory of mental health professionals available on its website. Instead of having to call 2-1-1 for referral to a mental health professional, people can now look up providers across the state who have registered with the nonprofit.

Elevating Behavioral Health, a coalition of local organizations that includes the Help Center, is working on mental health awareness and education campaigns, said Ellie Martin, a coalition member.

The Human Development Clinic, a service provided by master’s students in counseling at Montana State University, has moved its services online and, instead of providing them on a sliding scale, is offering them for free at least through the end of May, said director Heidi McKinley. The clinic has 13 counseling students who work with anyone — not just those affiliated with MSU. Anyone interested in setting up an appointment can call 406-994-4113.

Community Health Partners, which offers health services on a sliding fee scale, and therapists in private practice have increased their virtual and in-person behavioral health services, according to a news release from the Southwest Montana Community Organizations Active in Disaster, a group coordinating the response to COVID-19 in Gallatin, Madison and Park counties.

Requests for mental health services have also increased statewide.

In response to a surge in calls to the Montana Warmline, the state Department of Health and Human Services has given $20,000 to the service and extended its hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The Montana Warmline, available at montanawarmline.org and 877-688-3377, connects callers to local resources but is not a crisis line or online therapy.

DPHHS has also given $75,000 to the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, which provides around-the-clock free and confidential support to those in distress.

Thrive by Waypoint Health, an online cognitive behavioral therapy service, has received $25,000 from DPHHS to respond to the increased need stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.