The University’s Agora Crisis Center has seen an increase in the use of their services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Agora — a UNM student organization — is a free, confidential all-issues support center accessible to anyone.
“Our whole mission is really to just help our community,” Agora Associate Director Kyle Dougherty said. “Anybody can get in contact with us at any time.”
Agora reported they’ve had an increase in online chat services, while their phone services remain consistent with previous records.
In March alone, Agora received about 1,500 calls and 483 online chats. In a typical year, Agora receives around 30,000 calls and 8,000 chats, according to Dougherty.
Dougherty said that this number is rapidly increasing during the month of April.
“It’s an awfully stressful time and everybody needs support through this,” Dougherty said.
The online chat service is apart of a national suicide prevention line and is experiencing higher-usage volume due to this, which is causing slightly longer wait times.
Phone services are also more limited due to safety concerns, according to Dougherty. There are no more than three volunteers allowed in the physical Agora building at once while always being six feet apart. These volunteers are the ones that are answering the phone so the possibility of reaching a voicemail is more likely than prior to the health crisis.
Dougherty said about 80% of calls come from Bernalillo County and a good portion of those calls are students from the University of New Mexico He said national and international calls are occasionally received as well.
Dougherty said online chats are more popular at the moment due to the demographic of young adults preferring an online chat to a phone call.
All volunteers with Agora receive 40 hours of accredited training, including skills in active listening and suicide prevention.
“We have a really great support network here at Agora. Nobody’s alone in anything,” Dougherty said.
Staff and volunteers are responding to more high-lethality situations now, according to Dougherty.
“Things like anxiety, depression, loneliness... I think that the pandemic and quarantine exacerbate those,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said all volunteers and staff that can work remotely are doing so. Dougherty also said keeping all of their employees has been a priority for Agora.
“We want to make sure that everybody stays on the payroll, especially the students, because we don’t want to make this time any more challenging for them than it needs to be,” Dougherty said.
However, smaller crisis centers like Agora do face funding issues. Dougherty said a majority of Agora’s funding comes from the City of Albuquerque to answer the homeless assistance line, which has been ongoing for about a year.
Dougherty said other funding also comes from the New Mexico Department of Health for youth suicide prevention, the University of New Mexico and individual contributions from the local community.
Prior to the pandemic, the organization was discussing the possibility of a local chat portal for Albuquerque. Dougherty said that the pandemic “ may just lead us to push that even harder.”
All Agora volunteer training for this summer is going to transition completely online, which Dougherty said this will be a new experience for the center. He also said they will rely on executive management and other crisis centers facing the same dilemma to make the transition online as smooth as possible.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers, especially come fall,” Dougherty said. “It’s a really great opportunity for students here at UNM because we are located on campus.”
Agora had been planning a 50-year celebration for this summer, which has been tentatively reset for August.The center had also been a participant in Albuquerque Pride Week that was planned for this summer, which was canceled and rescheduled for 2021.
Megan Gleason is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716