ASSMCA announces crisis counseling program

By John McPhaul

Following the approval of $3,214,047 in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Crisis Counseling Program, Anti-Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) chief Suzanne Roig Fuertes on Sunday announced the creation of the CONÉCTATE Crisis Counseling program.

The purpose of the program is to strengthen crisis counseling services for survivors of events related to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to expanding the counseling services provided by the PAS Line through phone calls, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other virtual programs adapted to the reality of the pandemic and other challenges.

“Certainly, the events that we have experienced in recent years, since hurricanes Irma and Maria, the earthquakes that began in December 2019 and now with the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the emotional health of all Puerto Ricans has been affected,” Roig Fuertes said in a written statement.

The ASSMCA administrator added that “the COVID-19 emergency involves many factors in addition to the concern that we may experience due to the fear of infection from the disease, such as social isolation at home, extreme lifestyle alteration and decrease in income, among others.”

“This definitely increases emotional stress, in some instances exacerbating violent behavior and a deterioration in people’s mental health,” Roig Fuertes said.

During March and April, the ASSCMA PAS Line received some 13,000 calls directly related to COVID-19. The symptoms mostly reported by citizens included fear, frustration, anger, depression and other emotions related to a sense of helplessness in the situation. Those trends in the request for emotional attention have continued to the present.

The CONÉCTATE Crisis Counseling program will have a total of 248 crisis counselors distributed in teams throughout the areas most affected by COVID-19 in the island’s 78 municipalities. They will provide direct service to the communities while taking the necessary physical distancing measures and, as warranted, through teleconsultation.

Likewise, a team of 16 counselors will be established for the PAS Line, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to attend to specific cases that are related to COVID-19. The initiative will not only strengthen ASSMCA’s team of first response professionals in crisis situations, but will also allow the acquisition of electronic equipment to adapt interventions to the new reality for citizens and comply with the rules of physical distancing.

“CONÉCTATE will serve the entire Puerto Rican population that requires it, including adults and older adults in the communities and, in addition, it will have specialized personnel to deal with crisis situations [involving] children and adolescents,” Roig Fuertes said. “Undoubtedly, through this project, ASSMCA will have an extremely active role with great community impact on the mental and emotional health of the Puerto Rican people.”

The ASSMCA administrator reminded citizens that the Agency has the PAS Line 1-800-981-0023 available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge. Also, a new mobile application from Google Play and Apple Store allows users to access, in an immediate, safe and easy way, a live chat with professionals from the PAS Line through which they can receive emotional help for their particular situations.

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