Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.
In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.
The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.
George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?
I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.
What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?
Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.
The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.
Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.
Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.
So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.
If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?
Hello from a familiar voice
At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”
More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.
I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.
These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.
Crises don’t take a day off
For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.
I want to help
Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.
Holidays are a painful reminder
For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.
Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.
During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families both due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while working to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!
Crisis Call Centers are no strangers to stressful, high-impact work environments—but what happens when the world as we know it is turned upside down by a global pandemic? Join us as iCarol hosts Travis Atkinson of TBD Solutions to discuss the results of two national surveys administered to behavioral health crisis workers that shed light on the state of crisis services and what communities need to be prepared for to assure people experiencing a psychiatric emergency can access high-quality care.
When: Tuesday, December 8
Time: 2pm EST
After joining the webinar, attendees will:
- Understand the function of a healthy crisis continuum and the impact of system capacity issues on overall coordination
- Learn the most pressing issues facing crisis service providers of all types during the pandemic
- Identify strategies for creatively combating system challenges to achieve the desired goals of timely and accessible crisis services.
Travis Atkinson, MA-LPC
For the past 10 years, Travis has worked in both clinical and managerial roles in behavioral health. Through these experiences, he espouses the value of a healthy and functioning behavioral health care system, the power of data to drive decision‐making, and the importance of asking the right questions. While maintaining a broad vision for excellence and leadership, Travis has sought out best practices for behavioral health care services through research and connecting with fellow providers at a local and national level. He is an excellent training instructor, coach, meeting facilitator, conference presenter, and host of The Crisis Podcast.
In recent years, Giving Tuesday has emerged as a counterbalance to the consumer-based Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday shopping traditions. It serves as a reminder that the holiday season is about charitable acts of kindness and helping our neighbors in need. Giving Tuesday (this year it’s held on December 1st) is an excellent opportunity for non-profits and charities to tell their communities about the work they do and encourage charitable giving to their organization. Smaller organizations or those that may be completely volunteer based shouldn’t feel incapable of participating — you don’t need a dedicated marketing team to take part in Giving Tuesday.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined a lot of projects but Giving Tuesday shouldn’t be one of them. Yes, there are extra precautions to take and you may have to adjust your plans to keep everyone safe and comply with any restrictions in place. By now you’ve had to creatively adapt to a lot of things in 2020 — doing so for this event should be no problem! In fact, you should lean into fundraising efforts now more than ever — experts share that donors are focused on giving to local organizations, especially those who have provided direct response to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it is important that you are extra sensitive and mindful that donors themselves are likely having a tough time, so carefully think through your messaging.
Below are some simple ideas to try that don’t take a large budget or tons of advanced planning.
- Simple Social Media
At a minimum, your social media accounts should publish posts about Giving Tuesday (remember to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday to maximize your reach!). Post throughout the day or schedule your posts ahead of time with social media management software like Hootsuite, Buffer, or Sprout Social. Posts should include a call to action, i.e. do you want them to donate? Volunteer? Learn more about your work? Become an advocate? Depending on the call to action, include links to applicable web pages such as your volunteer opportunity or donation pages. Posts can focus on the work you do, success stories (shared either with client permission or written to remove identifying info), milestones and achievements, goals, and other information that you’d like your community to know about you. Examples of general Giving Tuesday social media posts can be found here. We’re always happy to help you boost your Giving Tuesday social media messages, so be sure to follow us on Twitter so we can follow you back to see your posts in our feed, then we can retweet your message to our followers.
- Share Video or Photos
Images and video are more compelling than text-only posts, and most social media sites say that posts that include them get more views, so use them if you can. Lean into content that focuses on how your organization has worked through COVID-19 to continue providing services, and why the services you provide are needed now more than ever. Your video doesn’t have to be Academy Award worthy — spontaneous and unrehearsed videos are authentic and give people a sense of who you are. If you’re working in an office, try a quick interview with a colleague about what they do and why they love working for your agency. Those working remotely can submit videos filmed themselves at home. Videos should be short and sweet, as most research shows short videos are the most watched. After taking the video you can usually do some light editing or clipping right on your phone before posting it to social media. If you’re feeling brave you can even do a live video right from platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, directly from a mobile phone.
- Engage Your Neighbors
Hopefully your organization is lucky enough to have some supporters in the business community that work with you throughout the year by holding fundraisers or making donations. Giving Tuesday is another perfect opportunity to engage with your biggest fans. Perhaps they’d be willing to post a short video to their social media feeds. Or maybe they’d do something as simple as keep a donation box or stack of your agency’s brochures at their register or other space in their business. Most businesses, especially those that already support your work, will welcome the opportunity to continue their advocacy during the holiday season. Many businesses are also motivated to align themselves with the work of non-profits especially now, to show that they are giving back to the community.
- Work Your Website
Your website is one of your greatest assets, especially now that so much of what we do is online rather than in-person, so make sure your Giving Tuesday participation is prominently featured there. This can be accomplished through something as simple as a blog post or homepage image, or more advanced like adding a new temporary banner or widget to your homepage that directs website visitors to your donation page, volunteer application, etc.
- Don’t Let Callers Off the Hook
If when people call you they first hear a general message or listen to a menu routing them to their desired destination, consider temporarily altering your greeting in honor of Giving Tuesday. This can be as simple as a 10-15 second “hello” wishing them a happy holiday season and inviting them to support your work, along with an invitation to visit your website for more information. This won’t add much at all to their wait time but will get your message in front of everyone who calls you.
- Shop and Donate
Did you know you can integrate Giving Tuesday into your donors’ other post-Thanksgiving activities like Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Some online retailers now offer donation integration as part of their shopping experience. The most well-known of these is the Amazon Smile program. Non-profits and charities can register their organization and shoppers can designate that agency as their charity of voice when shopping on the platform. Amazon donates a portion of eligible sales proceeds from those transactions back to the non-profit organization. It is remarkably easy for your donors to set this up when shopping — you simply need to get registered and promote it to those who support your work. Your donors can then do all their normal holiday shopping and support your services at the same time — WIN/WIN!
How is your agency planning to make the most of Giving Tuesday? Leave a comment below with your plans, or any ideas we may have missed! And be sure to follow iCarol on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and we will try to share your Giving Tuesday post as our way of saying thanks for the work you do!
Transgender Day of Remembrance, recognized each year on November 20th, honors the memory of transgender people lost to fatal violence and homicide. According to data provided by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 37 transgender or gender non-conforming people in the US were killed in acts of violence thus far in 2020 making it the deadliest year on record. Worldwide, hundreds were killed, according to a report filed by Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT). HRC notes that this is an estimation likely lower than the actual number of lives lost, because of the numerous difficulties involved in tracking these crimes. Reasons include the fact that crimes against transgender people are often underreported and people can be misgendered by the media, law enforcement, or even their own families when these crimes are reported.
Often times these tragedies can be directly linked back to anti-trans prejudice. And, even in cases where this direct connection cannot be made, it is often clear that the victim’s transgender identity in some way made them more at risk of being a victim of crime. For example, transgender people are much more likely to become homeless than people who are not transgender, and homelessness puts a person at a much higher risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to pause and honor each person, tell their story, and remember them. But scholar Sarah Lamble notes in Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence: The Politics of Interlocking Oppressions in Transgender Day of Remembrance:
None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.
It’s important to have discussions about violence against transgender people and talk about how we might be complicit in the circumstances of their deaths. How can we change that? What can we do to bring this number down to the only statistic that is acceptable — zero. Greater education about trans people and the issues they face is one important factor. Visibility and representation is another. As a society we can look at what programs and services, or legislation, can be enacted to better serve and protect transgender individuals. Even better, how do we build a more inclusive society where trans people are recognized as human beings worthy of equality and no longer seen as “other?” It’s only when all that happens that we may see anti-trans prejudice begin to decline, and violence against transgender people along with it.
You can read more about Transgender Day of Remembrance, find a virtual candlelight vigil, gather resources on trans issues, and learn what action you can take from the following places:
Beginning in 2011, when the United States Senate first recognized Information and Referral Services Day, November 16th was designated to raise public awareness and recognize the critical importance of the I&R field.
So what is I&R? Information and Referral is the art, science and practice of bringing people and services together and is an integral component of the health and human services sector. People in search of critical services such as shelter, financial assistance, food, jobs, or mental health and substance abuse support often do not know where to begin to get help, or they get overwhelmed trying to find what they need. I&R services recognize that when people in need are more easily connected to the services that will help them, thanks to knowledgeable I&R professionals, it reduces frustration and ensures that people reach the proper services quickly and efficiently.
The Coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the various first responders that step up and care for us when times are tough, and I&R professionals have certainly been one such group that deserves our praise and thanks. Every day thousands of people find the help they need quickly, conveniently and free of charge because of I&R services. Since the earliest days of COVID-19 in North America, I&R services have answered calls for local health authorities or served as their state, region, or provincial hotline for assistance with COVID-19, from questions about symptoms to testing locations to how to navigate unemployment and obtaining financial or food assistance.
We at iCarol are honored to have so many Information and Referral services all across the world use our software to help provide these services to people who reach them via phone, chat, text, or through intake and screening forms or resource searches on their websites.
Happy I & R Day, everyone, and kudos on the awesome work you do connecting people with the services they need, and addressing the social determinants of health in your communities!
Learn more about these topics:
One of the things I like most about Halloween is that it offers such a wide range of ways to participate and have fun. Horror movies not your thing? You can stick to fun activities like carving a jack-o-lantern and handing out candy to trick or treaters (in normal, non-pandemic years at least). And then there are the endless costume possibilities. You can be anything from a superhero to your favorite movie character to some very obscure cultural reference or the more traditional choice of ghost or vampire.
So with that range of costume possibilities and ways to have fun in mind, it’s always deeply upsetting to see Halloween become an event where mental illness is misrepresented and stigmatized. Some haunted house attractions are centered around “asylum” themes, or have a “haunted psych ward” component. Actors wearing straight jackets or wielding weapons chase visitors and shout lines about hearing voices. The message is very clear: Mental illness, and people who experience mental illness, are scary, violent, and to be feared.
In recent years, several costumes have been pulled from the shelves following pressure from mental health advocates. Unfortunately every year there are still a few new inappropriate and offensive costumes that pop up and make their way to stores and online retailers, and regrettably they are eventually seen out in public at bars and parties. And each time one is sold and then worn, it perpetuates the stigma and misconceptions around mental illness.
These interjections of mental illness into Halloween are neither fun nor harmless, but keep in place harmful stereotypes. These attractions and costumes continue pushing the idea that a person living with mental illness is violent and should be avoided. Discrimination is still a problem for people living with mental illness, and every day those who experience symptoms choose not to seek help for fear of mistreatment by the public, or that their relationships with family and friends will suffer. These depictions also hurt those who have experienced mental illness, especially those who have been hospitalized. Their deepest fears about what society thinks of them are realized when they see illness become a subject of fear-based entertainment.
It would never be acceptable to have haunted houses set in a hospice or cancer wing of a hospital, nor would we find cancer patient costumes to be appropriate. It’s important that we all speak up when we see mental illness being stigmatized, and stand up for those who have experience with illness and are negatively impacted by the perpetuation of stigma.
The 54th Annual Conference of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida, April 21-24, 2021, with pre-conference workshops taking place on April 21st. The event will offer a mix of in-person and virtual content with a theme of “Social Contexts in Suicide: Upstream Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Prevention.”
AAS has extended the Call for Papers deadline to November 15, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. They invite proposals for individual papers, posters, panel discussions, symposia, and workshops, and are also accepting presentations for several preconference programs:
- AAS Preconference Workshops
- Crisis Services Continuum Conference
- Postvention Preconference
- Military and Veteran Suicide Prevention Preconference
Proposals must follow specific guidelines and be submitted online to receive consideration. Abstracts that do not conform to the guidelines may not be reviewed. Applicants will be asked to select keywords identifying key elements of the submission, and those keywords will be used to index the conference program.
Submit Your Paper
How is the global Coronavirus pandemic affecting mental health providers, clients, and the gambling industry? Are you interested in learning more about gambling addiction and responsible gambling?
Join international experts and attendees from around the world at the virtual National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) National Conference, November 5-6 and 12-13. Virtual sessions will run from 12 to 4 pm EST with optional networking from 4 pm to 5pm.
The conference is the oldest and largest gathering that brings together local, national and international experts, professionals and individuals to discuss and learn about responsible gambling and problem gambling.
A wide range of topics will be presented, with something for experts and relative newcomers alike with content on public health, community, prevention, treatment, advocacy, recovery, research, regulatory, and the gambling industry, including online gambling, sports betting, military and veterans issues, and specific populations. Recordings of each day’s sessions will be available to registrants for at least 30 days.
Registration starts at $63/day – or less for groups 3 or more. Discounts available for NCPG members!
14 CEs, NAADAC approved.
Visit www.ncpgambling.org/national-conference/34th-mainonline/ to learn more and register!
Each year during the first full week of October, mental health organizations draw attention to mental health conditions through Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that effect millions of people, however they are still misunderstood and stigmatized, and those living with these conditions still face prejudice that those with other medical conditions don’t experience.
The aim of Mental Illness Awareness Week is to provide public education highlighting the fact that these illnesses are medical conditions and should be treated as such.
For more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week, and to participate with promoting the efforts around public information on mental illness, visit these resources: