CHICAGO (CBS) — Calls to local crisis centers are skyrocketing – as the stress of the coronavirus pandemic coupled with job loss stress drives some to a breaking point.

On Wednesday night, CBS 2’s Tara Molina broke down the numbers and took them to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

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With bills piling up, and long waits for help with unemployment, we’ve heard from people who are desperate. We know some of our state legislators and crisis centers have too – with calls for help to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at the highest they have been in years.

“I could pay my rent this month or last month,” said Chevaughn Silk, who has been waiting on unemployment help.

Silk wakes up and she thinks about money – mounting bills she can’t pay.

“We’re behind on lights and gas,” she said. “We’re trying to keep that on.”

Silk calls the stress she’s feeling now unlike anything she has ever experienced as she waits on a callback from IDES for help with her months-old unemployment claim.

“They’re not trying to call us back,” she said. “Nobody is trying to help us.”

Silk has not made that second call for help to a crisis center. But she said she understands why others have.

“They’re very desperate at this time,” Silk said. “Are you going to be on the street this week? Are you going to be able to eat?”

The NAMI office in Chicago has seen a major increase in calls during the pandemic.

“The long waits for unemployment were really stressful,” said Alexa James, chief executive officer of NAMI Chicago.

Breaking down call count to NAMI Chicago month to month, they went way up at the start of the pandemic – with unemployment issues contributing.

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“We did start responding to a lot of issues related to unemployment, housing, and food insecurity,” James said.

The average time per call is at an all-time high. Calls screened for suicide risk are up too.

“People were feeling so hopeless these unemployment calls were turning into crisis calls,” James said.

NAMI said Chicago’s call count in 6,330 in 2019 and was up to 10,685 in 2020 just through October.

This year through October, NAMI Chicago has coded 1,132 calls as being COVID-19 related, and 1,761 calls that were referrals through 311. This represents about 16 percent of NAMI Chicago referrals, compared with about 6 percent for all of 2019.

We reached out to IDES with this story. A spokeswoman did not address whether call-takers are trained to handle people dealing with crisis – instead releasing this statement:

“Claimant frustration is deeply felt by IDES. IDES has successfully paid out more than $17.6 billion to just under 3 million claimants in Illinois. The department works every day to improve processes so eligible claimants are able to access benefits they are eligible to receive. We improved resources on our website, brought on hundreds of new staff to man our call center, and streamlined procedures. If someone is eligible for benefits and certifies for benefits according to their certification schedule, they will receive benefits by debit card or direct deposit within 2-3 days.”

Silk told us she just wants a call.

“How are you supposed to survive with nothing?” she said.

Also From CBS Chicago:

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

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We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

Tara Molina