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Mental health calls are rising across Vancouver Island, and paramedics say responding to people in crisis has never been more challenging.

Brad Cameron, superintendent of patient care delivery for the Greater Victoria area said there is now more complexity to the job.

“Since June, we have seen an increase in spike province-wide to the number of mental health calls we’ve experienced: psychiatric issues, abnormal behaviour, suicide attempts and these kinds of calls,” he said. “We are not immune to what we are seeing.”

Paramedics have been feeling the crunch of the pandemic since it began more than eight months ago.

“Even though paramedics and dispatchers and call-takers have a significant degree of empathy and resilience, it does wear on us,” said Cameron. “We are also feeling the significant impact of doing this every day, for hours.”

As the mental health calls increase, Cameron is asking for people to be patient.

“Paramedics are there to help, we want to help, it’s why we do this job ... but we just ask for a bit of patience so when we come there and we have to get gowned up in all this gear to recognize it is not only for their benefit but to also protect our staff,” he said.

Since January, West Shore RCMP has seen a 24 per cent increase in mental health calls and a 95 per cent increase in well-being checks compared to this time last year.

Both Langford’s top cop and fire chief are concerned with the increase in calls.

“I am concerned that it’s going to get worse and people are going to continue to struggle through the pandemic,” said fire chief Chris Aubrey. “It’s OK to reach out for help and find access to the resources they need.”

Insp. Todd Preston said police officers are preparing themselves for the increase to continue into the winter months.

“COVID has been incredibly hard on so many people and families. I don’t think that society could ever be prepared themselves for this and we really need to band together as a community to help each other through this crisis,” said Preston.

Calls to Vancouver Island Crisis Line have also increased five per cent from January to Oct. 31 compared to the same time last year.

“That stands to reason as being a difficult year for so many people,” said Lyndsay Wells. “It tells us people are reaching out and trying to get the help that they need.”

Victoria-based therapist Ginger Henderson said now is the time for people to work on self-awareness and come up with coping skills, like meditation, to get through the darker months ahead.

“We need to take things off our list if we can,” Henderson said. “If people are overwhelming us or our to-do list is overwhelming us, now is not the time to be a perfectionist.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the crisis line from anywhere on Vancouver Island at any time by dialing 1-888-494-3888.