Guest blogger Sidhra Musani is Program Manager at Dr. Shabaz Charity Group
Guest blog views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic/iCarol, or iCarol’s parent company, Harris Computer Systems.
Help Us Launch Our Mental Health Helpline to Support the Greater Minnesota
Community by December 2022!
Sukoon: Healing of the Minds is an initiative that aims to provide support and resources for
minds in distress in a culturally informed manner, particularly for underserved and
marginalized communities. It’s designed to help individuals from all walks of life cope when
they are struggling with their mental health and wellness, regardless of their background,
situation or needs. So everyone can get the help they need, with confidentiality and empathy,
without fear of judgment or stigma.
Our Helpline Will Serve 7 Days a Week!
The helpline will be open and available to the local community 7 days a week. Individuals
can call/text the line anytime between 8 PM and 8 AM for anonymous and free support. Our
culturally informed and trained respondents will respond by seeking to listen, understand,
support, encourage, and assist as needed. Referrals to practitioners, support groups, local
agencies, and other relevant resources will also be provided to connect the caller/texter with
potential next steps.
What sets us apart? Empathy with Cultural Understanding.
Did you know that BIPOC communities in particular are much more likely to develop mental
health conditions? Among the major barriers for treatment are lack of access to culturally
informed mental health treatment and the gaping demand for understanding the unique
mental health needs of those communities. Cultural challenges get in the way, and anxiety as
well as stigma prevent people from reaching out. Our diverse team of respondents
understands those cultural challenges and struggles. As the organization works to develop
specialized care services, our aim is for individuals to begin their journey to healing through
this helpline with informed respondents who can understand and validate their experiences
(through mutual lived experiences). All respondents are trained to help with the following
Grief & Loss
Mental Health Challenges
Cultural and Religious issues
Intimate Partner Violence
Child Abuse or Neglect
Substance Use & Abuse
About the Organization
Dr. Shabaz Charity Group (DSCG) is a nonprofit organization that aims to create specialized
programming, increase awareness, and provide resources to strengthen the mental, physical
and emotional health and wellness of our greater Minnesota community. Our focus is to
bridge the gap in providing culturally informed resources and mental health services to
minority communities. Please help us provide these resources by donating to our campaign!
The Dr. Shabaz Charity Group is non-profit charity organization with 501(c)(3) status. All
donations are tax deductible.
Want to support this work with a one-time donation? Donate HERE
Interested in becoming a monthly donor? Check out our $100 or $10 monthly campaigns.
Want to learn more about the work we’re doing, check out our website HERE.
Have any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns, please do contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 612-282-5150.
Guest Blogger Josh Siegel is a PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on service provider well-being. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, he moved to Amsterdam, where he obtained a Master’s degree.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic/iCarol, or iCarol’s parent company, Harris Computer Systems.
Child helplines offer support and information to children for a wide variety of issues such as abuse and violence, bullying, sexuality, family, homelessness, health and discrimination. As such, child helplines fulfill the United Nations mandate that all children be heard. In 2017, child helplines in 146 countries received over 24 million contacts from children in need of care and protection, and these numbers are rising rapidly. To help meet this growing demand, helplines have introduced online chat as another method of communication.
To perform well in this challenging and evolving context, helplines invest a substantial part of their budget into training volunteers extensively on how to provide social support to each child in the form of instrumental (e.g. advice) and emotional (e.g. empathy) support. Like many other non-governmental organizations, child helplines face the challenges of limited resources and volunteer turnover.
Volunteers at child helplines play an important role in providing support for children, so keeping them satisfied during encounters is crucial to continue helping children. The purpose of our study was to understand how children’s perceptions of instrumental and emotional support influence volunteer encounter satisfaction, and whether this effect is moderated by a volunteer’s previous encounter experience and levels of interpersonal and service-offering adaptiveness.
From discussions with child helplines, I learned that volunteer turnover is a common concern. The goal of the research was learning how to retain volunteers by keeping them satisfied in their roles. The academic literature about helplines and counseling has found sources of volunteer satisfaction like personal development, and social support from colleagues. However, I was surprised to find that little academic research has explored how volunteers may derive satisfaction from their interactions with children. Since volunteers spend a majority of their shifts talking with children, it seemed like a good place to investigate.
Summary of findings:
When a volunteer feels dissatisfied after a chat with a child, how does this experience affect the volunteer’s next chat?
What was really interesting in this study, is that we were able to collect data from both the child and the volunteer after each chat that they had. This allowed us to understand how a child’s perceptions of the chat influenced the volunteer’s experience. Let me explain what we found.
When volunteers had a chat that they experienced as less satisfying, they felt more satisfied with the next chat, especially when they were able to provide the next child with information and referrals. In our study, we call this providing “instrumental support” and we asked the children the extent to which they felt they received this type of support from the helpline volunteer (children’s perceptions).
The other type of social support we looked into was emotional support. This is like active listening and just trying to help children feel better without directly trying to solve their problems. Unlike instrumental support, providing emotional support in the next chat did not improve volunteer satisfaction after a less satisfying chat.
We think that volunteers might provide instrumental support to feel better. When you’re feeling down, you can feel better by assisting someone because it feels good to help.
We also asked volunteers to rate their own “interpersonal adaptiveness.” It indicates how easy it is for volunteers to adjust how they communicate with each child. For instance, they might change their vocabulary to match a child’s or adjust their personality based on what they think the child needs. We found that those volunteers who feel they are good in interpersonal adaptiveness, were more satisfied when providing instrumental support. Another thing that volunteers do is adapt the support they provide to each child. For some volunteers, it is easier to customize the information or referrals to specifically fit each child’s situation. This is referred to as “service-offering adaptiveness” in our paper. We thought that this would mean some volunteers are better able to detect cues from children. And in doing so, their satisfaction would be more dependent on the cues they picked up from each child. However, we found the opposite. Our results showed that satisfaction for volunteers with higher “service-offering adaptiveness” was actually less affected by providing instrumental support.
Based on our findings, what can helplines do to help volunteers remain satisfied during their encounters with children?
Finding: Volunteers are more satisfied when children believe they received lots of instrumental support.
Suggested Action: Volunteers should have easy access to the helpline’s resources in order to provide the best information, advice, and referrals to children.
Finding: It is important to be aware that a volunteer’s experience with one encounter influences the next encounter.
Suggested Action: There should be sufficient support for volunteers after a less satisfying encounter. We recommend a feedback tool that would help volunteers to “cool off” after one of these chats or even allow a colleague or manager to help volunteers with the next chat.
Finding: Since volunteer satisfaction increases when children are happy with the support provided, it is important that volunteers are able to detect children’s perceptions.
Suggested Action: To help volunteers understand children’s perceptions throughout a chat, we propose that a monitoring system would be helpful. Such a system could highlight keywords in the chat that would signal whether the volunteer should provide more instrumental support and/or emotional support.
Further reading and sourcing: Siegel, J. and van Dolen, W. (2020), “Child helplines: exploring determinants and boundary conditions of volunteer encounter satisfaction”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-05-2019-0200
Call for collaboration:
The project I am currently working on investigates how helpline counselors manage multiple live chats / SMS conversations simultaneously and how doing so can affect their wellbeing. My goal is to identify ways for enhancing counselor wellbeing by determining how and when it is best to handle more than one interaction simultaneously in order to prevent either feeling overloaded or bored.
I am looking for a helpline with a focus on serving youth and children that would be willing to help me collect data from volunteers and counselors about their experiences with each interaction. I would also like to talk with helpline managers and counselors about their experiences, concerns, and ideas to find out how else we can collaborate. In addition to an academic article as output of this research, I would write a management report for the helpline which discusses the findings and recommendations for helpline managers.
If you are interested in collaborating, please contact me at email@example.com
Guest Blogger Elizabeth Hassett Schmidt, M.S., is Director, Workforce Development at VIA. Elizabeth oversees the programs and staff in VIA’s workforce development department in collaboration with our local, state and national partners.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol.
Since 1907, VIA, formerly the Olmsted Center for Sight, has remained the leading organization providing comprehensive vision rehabilitation, education, and employment services to individuals of all ages throughout the eight-county region of Upstate New York.
Our Mission: To help people who are blind or visually impaired achieve their highest level of independence.
Our vision is to be recognized as the Center for Excellence for blind and visually impaired (B/VI) children and adults by promoting independence, empowerment, inclusion, and hope. Each year, over 2,500 people benefit from vision rehabilitation, education, and employment services provided by VIA. We are the only Western NY organization providing a full spectrum of services with trained/certified vision rehabilitation professionals. We are located on part of the larger Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a 120-acre world-class collaboration of medical providers existing to better the community we live in.
Our vocational training and workforce development programs have a statewide and national reach supporting students from over thirty-seven states who seek our training for employment. Our hospitality curriculum was the only program of its kind at inception in 1998, and today we remain a leader in vocational programs for the blind and visually impaired with curriculums ranging from Telecommunications, Customer Service, Office Software, Transcription, to Food Service Preparation. In 2017, VIA invested in, developed and implemented a distance learning platform to allow potential candidates the ability to participate from anywhere in the country. This interactive platform now houses all of our traditional in-house training to offer more flexibility for clients especially those in rural areas and to graduate more employees to meet workforce demands.
The purpose of VIA’s “Breaking Employment Barriers” initiative is to convey to employers the benefits of hiring people who are B/VI not solely to celebrate diversity and inclusion, but because it makes sense to their companies’ bottom line.
The 2019, State of the Workforce, Labor Market Snapshot provided by NYATEP (New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals), examined workforce needs and training/educational output to understand who is working and who isn’t and the “number of potential workers produced by New York’s education and training systems.”1
Among the key findings of this report were:
New York must grow its labor force by maximizing underutilized labor such as young adults and persons with disabilities.
Workforce development is a core aspect of the State’s economic development and programs that promote education and skills development directly correlate to wages and therefore an increase in skilled labor directly affects the overall incomes of New Yorkers.
Nationwide, individuals with disabilities have an unemployment rate of 67.9%2 and individuals with blindness or vision loss have an unemployment rate of 63%3, yet we know that with education and skills training, the complete inverse of these numbers is possible. In fact, OCS boasts a placement rate for graduates of our vocational programs of 82% employment in competitive, integrated employment in New York State and 77% employment in competitive, integrated employment for graduates nationally. We know from experience that the complete inverse of employability is possible when skills training occurs and when employers are knowledgeable about the B/VI population as an underutilized workforce. In New York State alone, the population of working-age persons who report significant vision loss or blindness is 410,103, with the number of working-age B/VI persons between the transitioning ages (10-18) group and 18-64 years old group at 19,6704. These numbers do not even include already employed workers who may be experiencing significant vision loss on the job with no knowledge of how to stay employed and an employer who may not know what simple accommodations could retain an already trained employee. We believe those numbers to be significant.
In order to address the need for a skilled, trained workforce, VIA seeks to match employers to this underutilized, able workforce by breaking barriers of common misconceptions or lack of knowledge of what it means to “hire blind”.
We understand that most hiring managers are not aware of the abilities of people who are blind or visually impaired because they simply have had no exposure in their own workplace or careers. The occurrence of blindness and visual impairment among people of typical working age is approximately 1.1%5 with extremely low employment presence in the general labor force.
However, the lack of blind and visually impaired in the workplace has nothing to do with talent, skill or ability – more so, it’s a reflection on the difficulty associated with finding employment and eliminating the barriers of an employer’s lack of exposure and knowledge.
The BEB focuses on answering typical questions about hiring the blind and visually impaired such as:
How does a blind person use the computer?
How do they get to work on time?
How do they find their desk or the breakroom?
What will my staff say?
How much will it cost me to hire someone who is blind?
WHY should I hire someone who is blind?
In reality, there are very few jobs that are not able to be accommodated for a blind or low vision person— simple accommodations such as screen reading software, magnification, color contrast, lighting, and other adaptations can open up the door to a pool of potential employees with natural skill set that in some ways outperform sighted counterparts.
For example, a skilled screen reader user may navigate digital content with higher speed and accuracy due to the ability to use keyboard commands to search and answer specific content areas and, because the auditory skill allows a screen reader user to access a greatly increased speech rate thus cutting down on listening and response time in a call center — allowing for higher productivity and performing rates. The use of dual headset technology- screen reader in one ear and caller in the other – is something that most call center hiring managers have never seen in action and when they witness the speed, accuracy, and performance of a blind CSR agent, their understanding of labor market is never the same again!
There are different assistive technology tools that B/VI might use in the workplace. Assistive technology (AT) refers to hardware and software that enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of the job. For those who are blind, the main AT are screen readers, screen magnifiers, braille displays, and speech recognition software.
A screen reader is a program that analyzes the layout and content of a website and provides a text to speech translation. The playback speed rate can be set by the user and keyboard commands allow them to skip from heading to heading, click links, and complete other important tasks on the computer. Much like how a sighted person can visually skim a website to find the section they want to read, a person who is blind can do the same with their screen reader—as long as the content has been coded properly.
Have you ever pinched to zoom on a touchscreen device? If the answer is yes, you have used a small part of assistive technology. For individuals with low vision, it is helpful to magnify a section of the screen so that they can read easily.
Screen magnification can happen by using in-page controls, system setup tools, and accessible level zooms.
Refreshable braille displays
A braille display is a flat keyboard-like device that translates text into braille and enables blind individuals to interact with digital platforms using only their fingers.
Dictation software allows a user to navigate, type, and interact with digital content using their voice.
WHY should I hire someone who is blind?
Because it makes smart business sense and there are no additional costs to hiring a B/VI person versus a sighted person. Blind and Visually Impaired employees have:
Low attrition rates. Hiring blind employees can actually improve staff stability for your company. Because hiring barriers are so difficult for a blind person to overcome in the first place, blind persons tend to be “company people” in that they are very loyal and tend to be long term employees with very low attrition rates and very low absenteeism.
Creativity/Problem-Solving – The world in which we operate is a visual world- this puts those with vision loss at a disadvantage. In order to overcome daily obstacles and challenges, the blind and visually impaired have to problem solve and create workaround solutions to encumbrances they face every day. This type of problem-solving and the ability not to get “ruffled” is a huge asset when looking for behavioral-based responses in screening potential employees.
For Federal Contractors – it’s the law – Section 503 of the 2014 Rehabilitation Act6, applies to all federal contractors and established a 7% hiring goals for companies to hire persons with disabilities and data collection on the number of persons with disabilities who apply for hire. Hiring blind or visually impaired can help federal contractors meet this requirement.
Tax Credits – the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides a tax credit for each new employee hired who was referred by their state vocational rehabilitation agency- this arm of each state government exists to provide employment services to people with disabilities. Most states have additional tax incentives for hiring persons with disabilities. Working with your state’s VR agency that serves the blind and visually impaired can introduce your company to a host of different training and try-out incentives to support the hiring of that individual including salary compensation during the try-out.
Customer service/Conflict management – It is true; when one sense is impaired the other senses are heightened in skill. For blind and visually impaired, this can mean an increase in auditory skills— not just the speed at which a BVI person can listen to screen reading materials but also the ability to really listen and pick up on personality and emotions expressed by a customer. Often times, in the areas of customer service and conflict resolution, the blind are quickly able to pick up on a caller or customer’s tone and quickly diffuse a potential conflict.
Increase your Consumer Market – Businesses that are in tune with diversity and inclusivity are not only opening the door to a potential workforce but also opening the door to a new population of customers. Once a company has the barrier of accessibility within their purview of hiring, they open up the door to attracting a consumer base that is able to access digital media and interact with the company which will grow the customer base.
Find out about the demand occupations in New York State and how you may need needs by hiring diverse by accessing the NYS Department of labor site here:
So, how do I go about finding potential employees who are Blind or Visually Impaired in my state and what supports are available to me?
By contacting your state VR agency. Under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), state VR agencies are required to provide services to businesses in addition to the services they provide to persons with disabilities. This is meant to bridge the gap between participant and employer at no cost to an employer. In this way, your state VR agency can learn more about what your workforce needs are and provide qualified applicants. In addition to this, the VR agency can assist with:
Work Try-Outs, On the Job Training Support, Internships at no cost to an employer
Disability awareness/sensitivity training/etiquette in the workplace for staff
Jobsite assessments for accessibility
Job analysis of skills required for potential referrals
Education about financial incentives for hiring BVI
Assistance with accommodations for a new hire
Assistive technology evaluations to determine what software may be used to accommodate for a new hire
Post-hire follow up and ongoing employer relationship to a pipeline of talent
In NY State, you can contact the New York State Commission for the Blind- https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/cb/employers.asp
And, of course, you can contact non- profit agencies such as the VIA (www.olmstedcenter.org) to ask about our free Breaking Employment Barriers initiative and our trained graduates who can meet your company’s needs.
The Breaking Employment Barriers initiative will:
Make you aware of the advantages that hiring B/VI bring to the organization
Show you how BVI perform customer service-based jobs as any other person
Challenge myths about B/VI by answering questions you may have
1 NYATEP.org; State of the Workforce- A labor Market Snapshot for New York;2019 2 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision; blind.msstate.edu; “Blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?” 3 Ibid. 4 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016) (Unpublished data tables of specific disability questions in Current Population Survey, 2015 Annual Averages). Washington., DC 5 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision; blind.msstate.edu; “Blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?” 6 US Dept. of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (2014) ; Section 503 7 Mississippi State University; National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision;blind.msstate.edu;”blind People Can’t Perform This Job…Or Can They?”
Guest blogger Brenda Patterson is the Executive Director of CONTACT the Crisis Line in Jackson, Mississippi, and serves on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA.
With all callers/chat visitors we practice active listening and unconditional acceptance. We try to use open ended questions when facilitating conversations and summarize the caller/chat visitor’s plan as we close the conversation. When talking to an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability there can be additional considerations. Let’s look at five:
Person first language is a topic all by itself. Whether or not you know at the beginning of a call or chat if the individual has a disability using person first language in any conversation is important. Person first language emphasizes the person, not the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer primary, but one of several aspects of the whole person. Examples include: “person with an intellectual disability,” “person who has autism,” “person who is blind,” rather than “the mentally retarded,” “the autistic,” or “the blind.” Also consider how you refer to their challenge and devices that help them adapt. Using phrases such as “person with an addiction/mental health concern” “one who uses a wheelchair” instead of “mental patient,” “drunk,” “druggie,” “invalid,” or “wheelchair bound” is preferable.
Consider that people with intellectual/developmental disabilities often share the following thought processes:
– Difficulty with fluidity and flexibility of thinking
– A dislike of ambiguity (black and white thinking)
– Difficulty prioritizing and breaking down tasks into manageable projects
– A tendency for poor generalization skills (a person belongs in one and only one
environment and utilization of a skill in one situation but not others)
Recognize that individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability may think logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts. The use concrete examples when facilitating problem solving is helpful.
It’s important to dispel the myth that people with intellectual/developmental disabilities cannot benefit from therapy. In reality many different types of therapy have been found to be effective in treating people with developmental disabilities. Do not hesitate to mention therapy as an option. Although it generally takes longer for people with developmental challenges to make changes, those changes are stable once made.
Because there are higher incidents of abuse in people with any disability, the likelihood of trauma related symptoms occurring are greatly increased, which can be mistakenly attributed to the person’s developmental disability or pre-existing mental illness. Trauma responses generally represent a change from the person’s normal level of functioning.
While there are a number of additional tips to consider when talking to an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability, and there are tips which are specific to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder these are primary and apply to all individuals with a developmental disability.
With all callers we want to empower them to advocate for themselves and to generate their own solutions, as well as connecting them with services that can further assist them. Whether you are talking to the individual with an intellectual/developmental disability or their family, it’s important to ask if they are receiving Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) as provided in the state they live in. HCBS provide opportunities for Medicaid beneficiaries to receive services in their own home and community. While waiting lists can be long, the services provided are invaluable and making application early in the individual’s life is important. It can mean they will have the support they need to be independent in adulthood and be happy and content in the life choices they have made.
Guest Blogger Adam Cook started AddictionHub.org after losing a friend to substance abuse and suicide. Mr. Cook’s mission is to provide people struggling with substance abuse with resources to help them recover. He founded Addiction Hub, which locates and catalogs addiction resources.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol
Recovering from addiction is a long-term process. In fact, it’s a lifelong struggle. To help recovering addicts remain sober, treatment professionals often encourage them to spend time with friends and family. Loved ones can be an important source of emotional and moral support at a time when help is most needed. But there are times when even the most dedicated family member can be a distraction without realizing it. As fun and reassuring as get-togethers can be, addiction may assert itself at any time. One well-meaning but forgetful relative hanging around an open bar can easily lead to a relapse that undoes months of progress.
People with substance abuse problems can enjoy the fun and fellowship of family gatherings just as they always have, even in the early stages of sobriety. But it’s important to observe a few rules and to understand the challenges and stresses that are likely to arise, especially during the holidays.
Think it through
As we all know, family parties and social events tend to generate their own unique kinds of stress, so be certain that you’re doing everything you can to help your guest handle it from a sobriety standpoint. One good strategy is to rate the situation based on risk level. If you know it’s likely to be a high-risk scenario for a recovering addict, consider limiting the amount of alcohol that’ll be served. Or you can plan to shorten the evening a bit and reduce the likelihood that your guest might give in to temptation. If it’s feasible, consider throwing a non-alcoholic party.
If you’re throwing a holiday shindig, make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic options on your drink list. Include drinks like sparkling water and an array of soft drinks, and plenty of finger foods. Remember that people in the early stages of sobriety need to watch out for things that might trigger a relapse. Try to put yourself in their shoes and make it easy as possible for them to avoid exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
The buddy system
Do you know someone who doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs? If so, invite them to your party so your newly recovered family member won’t feel so alone and uncomfortable. It’s a positive distraction, and provides a ready-made excuse to steer clear of the action around the bar and people who are just there to tie one on. Remember, peer support is essential for someone going through the early stages of sobriety.
If you have limited space or you’re expecting a lot of guests, remember that a recovering addict is very vulnerable to peer pressure and needs an easy means of escaping the crowd. Provide ready access to open areas such as a patio or lawn or a quieter space in the house; they’re great refuges when things get a little too claustrophobic.
Learn your lines
Take a few minutes to think through how you’ll respond if a boozy great uncle shoves a scotch and soda at a relative who’s newly sober. Knowing how you’ll respond can help smooth over a potentially awkward situation. It’s not necessary to concoct a world-class fable, just have something in mind that’ll help your guest steer clear of embarrassment.
Keep it kid-friendly
You can also help young people avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs by establishing secure, “adults-only” areas if you’re having a party. This way, you’ll avoid creating opportunities for any kids and teens who might be hanging around to experiment with alcohol and, possibly, develop substance abuse issues later in life.
There’s no reason that people who live with substance abuse problems can’t enjoy a good time when friends and family get together. Making sure they do just takes a little extra consideration and effort.
There seems to be constant pressure among millennials to achieve.
At the University of Iowa, each successive year of freshmen claim the new title of the “most accomplished class yet.” As a senior, my Facebook feed is flooded with job acceptances and pictures of people traveling the globe to study and volunteer. In a world hyper saturated with success, it’s often hard to focus on my own path, my own passions.
In the Spring of 2017, I stepped in to W332 in the Adler Journalism Building for a typical day of class. Then my dad called. I ignored it once. My sister texted me, asking if I’d talked to him. He called again. I stepped out of class, knowing something was wrong, and barely made it down the hall before I sunk to the floor, stifling sobs. He told me my cousin had died by suicide the night before.
The rush of confusion, guilt, and anger washed my sadness away. That wouldn’t hit until later, when reality settled in, and it would hit hard. I got up and beelined to the woman’s bathroom, stared myself in the mirror, gave up on understanding the pain in my reflection, mindlessly walked back to class, failed a quiz, and went home to bury myself in bed.
The only quantifiable effect of my cousin Christopher’s death in my life was the drop in my GPA that semester. Yet my heart was never the same.
His death, his suicide at the same age as me, made me question everything. It made me wonder what I’m doing in college, what exactly this degree is supposed to get me, and which experiences really matter.
I’m 21 years old, and for the first time, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. All I know is that old intangible cliché: I want to make a difference.
Losing someone to suicide makes all the tragedies in life feel more poignant and for a while I could imagine how my cousin saw the world before he left it: cold and mean. Lonely. But this does not have to be reality, and I’ve come to realize that making a difference does not have to mean making the world perfect.
When I remember Christopher’s face, I choose to remember him smiling. Playing guitar, laughing. I remember the gray sweater he wore the last time I saw him, how old he suddenly seemed when he had to hunch over to hug me. I remember us grimacing over our glasses of wine, the youngest in the family and the last to learn to like it. The world was still sad and scary sometimes, but it was better off because I could look across the table and there he was.
Just months before his suicide, my cousin reached out to me and told me about moving out of the house and in to his new apartment. He said, “I’m just worried about my mom missing me.”
I reassured him that of course she would miss him, but that would be okay because they had a lifetime together. He’d still see her. Neither of them would be alone. But was he trying to tell me something more? Was this the kind of conversation that could have saved his life, if he had called a crisis line that April night months later?
In a world with so many problems and so many people, my cousin’s death taught me that making a difference in the world can come down to making a difference in one single life. I believe making a difference is as simple as embracing co-dependence, reminding one another we’re in this together.
The insidious demons that caused my cousin’s death did not die with him, they threaten the wellbeing of people across the world. Not only depression but the pain of poverty, addiction, illness — the fear in feeling helpless, alone.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I want to make a difference, I want to fight that fear. The internship I recently accepted with The Crisis Center empowers me to do just that.
I’d like to ask everyone reading to take this number down, to make a note of it:
This is The Crisis Center’s Crisis Line. It does not necessarily mean a suicide hotline. It means a set of ears to listen and a voice to respond, if you even want to talk, which you don’t have to. It means no judgement, no evaluation. It means a human heart, beating with the one on the other end of the line, a person dedicated to nothing but being there.
Please, put us in your contacts: 1-855-325-4296. Call or text if you need someone to talk to, call or text if you are worried about someone you love. Pass the number on if you think someone else needs it. Write it on bathroom stalls, turn it in to a song and sing it while you walk, I don’t care. Just don’t ignore it.
If the only result of my internship is one single person saving that number, I’ve succeeded.
It’s hard to allow vulnerability and weakness. We live in an era of individuality where everyone wants to succeed, and no one wants to ask for help along the way. But being human means being challenged. It means being exhausted. Sometimes, it means wanting to give up. On the assignment driving you crazy, the job you can’t stand, the degree you’ve worked so hard for; on life itself.
The second we start being more open about this fact, the easier it is to overcome. And change doesn’t have to be big. Change can be as simple as answering honestly next time someone asks, “how are you,” and expecting them to do the same. It could be as simple as listening.
Encouraging open lines of communications between loved ones and between complete strangers makes the world a more connected and more caring place. For me, for now, this is the kind of difference I want to make.
Check in with your family and friends, ask them how they are doing. Really ask them. When they ask you, really answer. This question, this conversation, could change the world.
And if you feel alone, with no one to talk to, you’re wrong. We’re listening, at 1-855-325-4296.
How are you?
To join The Crisis Center in their mission, consider volunteering your time to a number of local and remote services: by answering the crisis phone line, answering the online crisis chat/text service. Volunteers are at the heart of the organization. For more information, visit: https://www.jccrisiscenter.org/volunteer-now/
Guest blogger Brooke Clayton is a communications intern at the Crisis Center of Johnson County in Iowa City, Iowa and a senior at the University of Iowa.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic, iCarol, or Harris Computer Systems.
As the Mega Millions jackpot has reached record levels, the National Council on Problem Gambling urges consumers to protect themselves against excessive gambling and calls upon lotteries and the media to promote responsible gambling messages.
Responsible gambling efforts should be made by lottery operators and players alike. Here are four simple responsible gambling tips to know and share:
Set a limit of time and money spent gambling.
Don’t gamble to escape feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.
Know where to get help for a gambling problem.
Minors are prohibited from most forms of gambling.
“The media and consumer interest in high lottery jackpots creates an opportunity to provide responsible gambling messages designed to help people who choose to gamble make informed decisions about their play…Lotteries play an important role in reminding retailers and players about the minimum age to play and in educating their players about simple steps to promote responsible gambling.”
— Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling
State lotteries and media are asked to incorporate responsible gambling messaging and the National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-522-4700) into their upcoming promotion and coverage of the Mega Millions jackpot.
The National Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-522-4700 or www.ncpgambling.org/chat) is the single national point of access for problem gambling help. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in all 50 states. All calls are confidential and offer local information and referral options for problem gamblers and their families. In 2017 the Helpline received 233,000 calls, an average of one call every two minutes.
About the National Council on Problem Gambling
NCPG is the national advocate for problem gamblers and their families. NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all stakeholders to promote responsible gambling. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call or text the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700 or visit www.ncpgambling.org/chat for confidential help.
If you think the media does a poor job covering sexual violence today, check out how it was done 45 years ago, when BARCC was founded. Few media outlets wrote about sexual assault and when they did, the language is rudimentary and lacks nuance—a direct reflection of the fact that up until the rape crisis center movement of the 1970s, U.S. society had yet to grapple in a meaningful way with an epidemic of sexual violence that we are still living with today.
The Boston Globe’s coverage of BARCC’s opening consists of six short paragraphs devoid of context, statistics, survivor stories, or even quotes from the founders. The piece assumes that the only people in need of services are women.
Fortunately, as survivors and advocates broke the silence surrounding sexual violence and educated the public, law enforcement, policy makers, and the media on the issue, our vocabulary expanded and made its way to the mainstream. Now, major media outlets consider nuances like when to use the term “survivor” rather than “victim.”Journalism watchdogs and other stakeholders have created resources to aid reporters in reporting on sexual violence. Colleges and universities publish vocabulary lists to contextualize their sexual assault response and prevention work, defining terms like “affirmative consent” and “bystander intervention” for the campus community. And social media is amplifying the unfiltered voices of hundreds of thousands of survivors through viral phenomena like the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BelieveSurvivors movements.
But change like this takes time, and we see evidence of that in coverage of sexual violence through the years. Consider this 1977 headline from a Boston Globe front page story:
Written early in her career by Judy Foreman, now the author of several books and a highly regarded medical specialist and science writer, the piece opens: “Rape isn’t supposed to happen to nice, quiet people who leave the city for the suburbs. Even more important, rape is not supposed to be talked about, even if it happens. That kind of hysteria is for city people.”
Buried deeper in the story was the less sensational—and more important—truth of the matter: “What is clearly happening is that the taboos surrounding rape and sexual assault, the shrouds of silence in which rape was hidden in suburbia, are falling away under the combined pressure of new state laws and the growing demand for rape crisis services.”
In July 1981, the biased and myth-laden media coverage of a case in which three Boston physicians were convicted of raping a nurse prompted BARCC to hold a press conference to point out problems with the reporting. Among other complaints, BARCC’s Aileen O’Neill blasted the media for identifying and sympathizing with the defendants while ignoring the “effects of rape and the trial experience on the woman,” according to Globe coverage of the press conference.
A week before the press conference, for example, the Globe had published a story headlined, “For 3 Doctors, Future Is Uncertain,” that detailed the financial, employment, and personal troubles that had befallen the convicted rapists, quoting their attorneys and family members—including a parent who portrayed his son as the victim: “The stigma, the emotion, the trauma, is something you can’t forget,” he said of his son’s rape conviction.
Of course, we still see this focus on the harm done to perpetrators when they are held to account for their actions. The most prominent recent example is probably that of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student who was convicted of having raped a 23-year-old woman on the school’s campus in 2015. Turner’s father petitioned the court to sentence him to probation, writing, “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Although his crime was punishable by up to 14 years in prison, the judge in the case sentenced Turner to six months (he served just three), citing the “severe impact” that prison would have on Turner.
More favorable shifts in tone and balance were evident by the 1990s and 2000s, when media championed the privacy rights of sexual assault survivors who sought mental health treatment as part of their recovery. Coverage of the issue was prompted by a Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling in favor of making survivors’ records available to defendants in a 1991 ruling and another 2000 decision prompted by BARCC’s refusal to hand over a rape victim’s records to her accuser.
With each ruling, in addition to reporting that focused primarily on how the ruling would affect sexual assault survivors as opposed to how it would serve defendants, media gave ample space to critics of the decisions.
After the 1991 ruling, Boston Globe columnist Bella English wrote a scathing critique that featured the voices of survivors and advocates, including then–BARCC Executive Director Sharon Vardatira. The “dubious ruling” robbed survivors of hard-won privacy rights, English wrote. “A defense attorney is not going to subpoena a victim’s psychiatric record to ‘determine if she had motive to lie,’ as the SJC naively believes. A defense attorney is looking for dirt, period, whether it’s relevant or not.”
After the ruling against BARCC in 2000, the Globe not only published an op-ed by then–BARCC Executive Director Charlene Allen, it also editorialized that the SJC had “unnecessarily lowered the bar for protecting” the privacy rights of rape victims against due-process claims by defendants. “What happens now?” asked the Globe. “To protect clients, crisis centers may keep even less detailed written records, so they have less to surrender—even though this threatens to hurt the continuity of care.”
Such concern for sexual assault survivors is a far cry from sympathetic coverage of convicted rapists. Though we still have far to go in dismantling a culture that enables sexual violence, it’s clear that the conversation about sexual assault has shifted in a direction more favorable to survivors.
Today, BARCC is a go-to source for reporters covering issues related to sexual violence. We regularly share our expertise in media outlets, including national publications like the Hill and Huffington Post, as well as local outlets like NBC Boston, WBUR, and of course, the Globe.
This article first appeared on the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) website and is reprinted with permission from the staff at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The views and opinions expressed in guest blogs are those of the guest blog author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol.
The National Crisis Center Conference presented by CONTACT USA and NASCOD is 4 months away! Details about the conference including conference and hotel registration can be found at http://www.crisiscon.org/. Early bird registration will end August 17th so register now to receive the early bird discount.
This year’s conference will be from October 17th – 19th in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference includes 3 days of best practices, intensive trainings, and networking opportunities with crisis center leaders and managers from around the country.
For those that have not attended a conference before, it is a great way to network with other centers, meet new people, connect with colleagues, as well as learn and share pertinent crisis work information.
Call for papers is now open as well. If you are interested in presenting, please submit your presentation proposal at: http://www.crisiscon.org/program.html. Deadline for submission is Wednesday, July 11th.
A lot of you may be wondering about the potential impacts of the recent Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. On May 14, 2018 the US Supreme Court declared the federal ban on sports betting to be unconstitutional. By repealing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the Supreme Court opens the door for any state to legalize sports betting. The National Council on Problem Gambling believes the ruling by the Supreme Court is the largest potential expansion of gambling in our nation’s history now that an additional 49 states have the opportunity to legalize sports betting. We believe the expansion of legalized sports gambling in the United States will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless serious steps are taken to minimize harm.
Approximately 85% of Americans either gamble or approve of it. We know that there is already a vast amount of illegal sports betting occuring across America. And kids are already frequently exposed to parental gambling plus advertising and promotion for unregulated offshore gambling in media and online outlets. Expansion will likely increase availability and acceptability of sports gambling and thus increase participation, which may lead to more gambling problems. Unfortunately, this has not been uniformly accompanied by appropriate—or in some cases any—funds to prevent or treat gambling addiction. As a result current public problem gambling prevention and treatment services—especially for youth—are insufficient in most states and nonexistent in many.
Approximately 2% of adults experience gambling problems, or approximately 5 million people. Gambling addiction is a rare but serious public health concern similar to other disorders that can ultimately lead to psychological, financial and legal problems. Additionally, gambling problems are strongly associated with increased incidence of suicide attempts, substance use disorders, and other behavioral health conditions. These social and economic impacts must not be ignored.
The NCPG Board of Directors issued a Resolution on the Legalization of Sports Gambling in February 2017 that included specific recommendations on preventing problem gambling and encouraging responsible gaming for three key stakeholder groups: legislators and regulators; leagues and teams; and the media. In March 2018 the Board followed up by issuing Responsible Gaming Principles for Sports Gambling Legislation. Over 20 states have filed legislation to legalize sports betting, few with the types of consumer protections we recommend. Sadly it looks like we may see a rise in gambling addiction over the next few years, which affects all of us.
About National Council of Problem Gambling
NCPG is the national advocate for problem gamblers and their families. NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all stakeholders to promote responsible gaming. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem in the United States, call or text the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at 1-800-522-4700 or visit www.ncpgambling.org/chat for confidential help. We are proud to use iCarol for our text and chat program.
Guest blogger Keith Whyte has served as Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) since October 1998. NCPG is the national advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol