As 2020 comes to a close and we look forward to 2021, I like to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year. While they may have looked and felt different this year, they are accomplishments none the less.
I have had the opportunity to communicate with many of you this year, but for those I have not yet met, I joined iCarol as the Vice President of Operations in March of this year. Many of you know or have spoken previously to Rachel Wentink, who has served in this role for 5 years. Rachel is still working with us but is working part-time as she moves to semi-retirement. As I transitioned into this role from another Harris Business Unit, it struck me right away the absolute commitment and dedication that is a culture within the industries we serve. I love the sense of community that I experienced while attending various conferences this year, which says a lot given they were all held remotely. I look forward to “meeting” many more of you in 2021 and learning of the plans you have or need help with to drive towards the vision for your organizations.
While 2020 brought many hardships, I have been trying to focus on the positives and the accomplishments that we have achieved this year at iCarol.
We have had the privilege of welcoming many new organizations into the iCarol family, as well as continue to serve our current valued clients. Most of what we do is driven from input from our iCarol client family. We seek information and insights from all of you to guide us in what we continue to offer in iCarol. As a result, we have made many code changes that turned out 646 different features and bug fixes throughout the year. This included some rather large developments like the Referral Q and Provider Portal, as well as developments such as our Contact Record API updates. We have also focused our development efforts this year to continue to evolve security to better secure your data. A couple of these additions are the audit log and lock box enhancements, in addition to infrastructure security changes that were made in October. We discussed these enhancements on our Customer Webinar held on December 9. If you were not able to join us, you can access the recording through the iCarol Admin Dashboard or Help Center and watch it at your convenience. We look forward to sharing more of the accomplishments that our Tech Team has turned out in 2020 at our State of iCarol webinar in January. Details on the webinar will be coming soon, and we hope to see all of you there!
Early this year we moved our Support ticketing system to a new platform in an effort to better support all of you. This move has allowed us to better track support needs and streamline our internal processes. This was a large undertaking, as is any new system, but we believe it was time well spent and encourage feedback from all of you. One way we would love to hear from you is on the survey that is provided at the end of each support ticket. We have seen an increasing number of responses, and I would encourage those of you who bypass it to please take a few seconds and provide your feedback so we can do better.
I have heard many people utter the same sentiment, that the end of 2020 cannot come soon enough. It has been a challenging year. The impact of COVID-19 has had a profound impact on everyone, none more than all of you — those that assist help seekers struggling with the changes it has brought to a once normal life, while getting used to a remote working culture that many of you were not accustomed to yourselves, and finding a way to manage the increased volume of contacts at the same time. What you have accomplished this year has been nothing short of remarkable, and from all of us at iCarol we want to sincerely thank all of you for being the light in the darkness for so many this year.
Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year from all of us at iCarol.
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.
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.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) in partnership with the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS), is launching the Learning and Action in Policy and Partnerships (LAPP) program. LAPP will provide award opportunities to community organizations who are partnered with their state government to advance community-led programs focused on data-sharing efforts to improve health, equity and well-being.
Five awardees will receive $100,000 each to:
(a) engage partners to advance existing data-sharing or data-integration efforts;
(b) systematically share data across sectors (e.g., social services, public health, and health care); and
(c) build relationships among community and state partners to inform decision-making and strengthen systems that support community goals for improved health, well-being and equity.
In the second year of the LAPP Program, additional funding and support may become available, based on successful completion of program objectives and deliverables.
Planning to apply? We can help!
If you plan to expand your data-integration or sharing efforts and are considering this award as a way to fund that project, please contact us. iCarol offers a number of ways to harness your data, with other iCarol users and with partners and with those who use different solutions. Let’s get together to discuss your potential project to see which of our many data sharing solutions might work for you in an effort to obtain this funding!
Email Us Schedule A Meeting
Click here for more information about the LAPP program
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!