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'I let him know I was here for him': Veteran uses compassion to answer COVID-19 mental health hotline

Need someone to talk with? Call the COVID19 Emotional Support Hotline (866) 399-8938.

ATLANTA — The uncertainty of what comes next or how to stay safe in the wake of COVID-19 is stressful for some, debilitating for others. 

That’s why the state of Georgia launched a mental health hotline to help those struggling to cope. It's free, confidential and staffed with trained volunteers 24 hours a day.

David Kendrick is one of those on the other end of the line. At age 19, full of youthful courage, Kendrick entered the Army. It didn’t take long before he landed in Iraq.

“When I got shot by a sniper it was just a regular day. In the blink of an eye I just heard this split -second crack of a rifle and my entire life is changed,” recalls Kendrick about the day in 2006 that changed his life forever.

The sniper managed to shoot Kendrick in both legs. Doctors initially didn’t know if they could save his left leg. It would take 14 surgeries and more than a year of physical therapy to answer the question and recover.

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He still wears the scars from his physical injury, with emotional scars, as well. Kendrick says the fear stays with him.

“My PTSD, it stems from not actually knowing who that person was and wondering if they’re still out there," explains Kendrick.

Kendrick says COVID-19 is for some, the same kind of enemy. 

“It’s an invisible enemy and we can’t see it, we can’t touch it," he says.

It’s that understanding and life experience he is now using to help those in Georgia. Three days a week, he sits in his apartment, armed with a new weapon: his phone, taking calls on the state’s COVID Emotional Support Hotline at 866-399-8938. Trained volunteers are available daily from 8am to 11pm.

RELATED: 'You aren’t alone in this' | Crisis hotlines need volunteers to help in extremely high COVID-19 call volume

Kendrick says the details of each call varies, but the themes remain the same - isolation, fear, and helplessness. He reflects on a woman unable to travel to New York after her mother died suddenly.

“She was just distraught and heartbroken because it happened so fast,” Kendrick recalls. “She can’t do things like grieve with the other family members that are in New York. She can’t help plan the funeral.”

Credit: WXIA

While some people worry about returning to work wondering if their employer has done enough to protect them, one caller never got the option to stay home.

“She has a job cleaning banks," he describes. "She stated that she had on two pairs of gloves and one of her fingernails poked through and she immediately freaked out and she left. She took a shower and washed her hands. But she stated ever since that day she was worried about, 'am I infected now? Did I touch anything? Is it in my car?'"

Then there is the isolation of social distancing, an even deeper struggle for those dependent on support meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous.

“He just needed someone to talk to, and I let him know I was here for him," Kendrick says. "I gave him as much time as he needed. He wanted to call in and read some poetry to me because it puts his mind at ease."

Kendrick stresses the hotline is not a replacement for therapy. It’s intended to guide people to valid sources of information for answers about COVID-19 and the CDC’s recommendations, as well as make sure people know they are not alone.

He says what he wants to offer is hope, like so many did for him when he needed it most.

“Letting everybody know that things are going to be okay. The most important thing we offer is knowledge, information and hope," Kendrick says.

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

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