March 14, 2022

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today’s newsletter introduces you to a wonderfully popular “hotline” created by kindergarteners and the not-so-wonderful predicament of a national 988 crisis hotline that is struggling to staff up before its mandatory national debut. Plus songs that get us through the toughest of times.

A pep talk from kindergarteners

Who better to lift you up when you’re down than kindergarteners? A high-spirited group of students at West Side Elementary School in Healdsburg, California, created Peptoc Hotline to boost the mood of a depressed world. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on the unusual hotline in early March, and since then National Public Radio, CNN, USA Today, the Washington Post, The New York Times, and CBS Sunday have all recognized a great story when they see one. Jessica Martin, an art teacher at the Sonoma County public school, started the project with artist Asherah Weiss because they wanted to bring some joy to children stressed out by the pandemic and wildfire evacuations. “They have also been able to find coping mechanisms and advice for themselves to get through the day in a really positive way,” Martin said. “And we really wanted to share that with the world.”

Less than two weeks after going live on Feb. 26, the hotline was getting 8,000 calls an hour, Martin said. Callers are greeted by the voice of her 11-year-old daughter, Rosely Pochan: “If you’re feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press 1. If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press 2. If you need a pep talk from kindergartners, press 3. If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press 4. For encouragement in Spanish, press 5.”

You can reach the hotline at (707) 873-7862. And you can watch a terrific story here from CBS Sunday Morning.

Is the 988 crisis hotline ready for its moment?

It’s one of the most practical boosts in mental health services in decades: a uniform, easy-to-remember three-digit number – 988 – that’s supposed to allow callers to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. But as MindSite News has been reporting, it’s rollout so far has been uneven. Now the New York Times is reporting that the service may be too understaffed to meet demand when states go live with it in mid-July. Currently, about 17 percent of the 2 million calls routed to the 24-hour Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) as it currently operates are abandoned before the person can get help. People also gave up on 41 percent of texts and 73 percent of chats, the Times reported. The change to 988 is projected to bring tens of millions more calls, with the aim of providing assistance by phone and reducing interventions by police and visits to emergency rooms. When calls get answered, the Lifeline can be tremendously effective, giving people in their darkest moments someone to talk to, advocates say.

The telecom upgrade was signed into law by former President Trump, is widely supported by both political parties and got another $282 million from the Biden administration. But Congress left much of the additional funding needed up to the states and provided them authority to fund it via surcharges on phone bills, such as those that pay for 911. But in many states, lawmakers are leery, worried it would be seen as a tax.

On ‘sad bangers,” or songs that get you through

Sad bangers, also known as “songs whose lyrics of grief, anxiety, yearning or some other mild or great darkness are washed over with an upbeat tune,” got Hanif Abdurraqib through the pandemic, he writes in the New York Times magazine’s annual music issue. A “sad banger,” he adds, goes “beyond binary emotions and unlocks a multilayered fullness that might, depending on the song, involve dancing, and crying, and longing, and stumbling out of some dive bar mid-tune to text or call the person you probably shouldn’t.” He lets us listen in on his full playlist, but best put that phone away first.

In other news …

Few of us will ever know the pressure that goes with competing professionally and being in the public eye. Naomi Osaka seemed confident last week when she told a pre-tournament press conference at the Indian Wells tournament in California: “I’m good. Honestly, I feel like I’m at peace with myself.” Nine months earlier, the then 23-year-old tennis star withdrew from the French Open, citing bouts of depression. Now back on the circuit, she started well, defeating 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in first-round action, the Los Angeles Times reported. Then, on Saturday, in her second-round match against Veronika Kudermetova, a heckler got to her, yelling “Naomi, you suck.” A distraught Osaka responded with tears and lost in straight sets 6-0 and 6-4, according to the Los Angeles Times. She bravely stuck around for an interview after the match and conceded that the heckling “got in my head.”

Children who experienced concussions were nearly 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression and behavioral disorders, HealthDay reports, citing the results of a study of 450,000 children published in JAMA Network Open. Experts said that the findings were not cause for alarm but noted the importance of taking concussions seriously and watching kids’ mental health afterward.

The push to demonize and criminalize efforts to assist transgender children continues to ratchet up – and to attract headlines. Here’s what gender affirming medical care involves and why it can help” is the timely headline on the website of Health magazine. The Washington Post looked at what’s behind the moves against transgender kids, and the New York Times examined the effort by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to label care for kids as “child abuse.” Meanwhile, a Texas appeals court judge temporarily blocked the state’s child protection agency from pursuing investigations based on Abbott’s policy, prompting the state’s attorney general to promise an appeal to the state Supreme Court, NPR reported. The Idaho House of Representatives approved a bill that could send parents to prison for seeking gender-affirming health care for their child in the state and also for traveling out of state to get it.


If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.


Diagnosis by TikTok?

A new paper investigates the accuracy and uptake of TikTok videos about ADHD. Spoiler alert: accuracy is low, uptake is, well, viral. We also look at AI-based linguistic tools to measure thought disorder and – who knew? – the relationship of birth spacing to oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

What to Do When the World Is Ending

I am part of a generation that feels, constantly, and even in the most mundane moments, that the world is ending.

More Latino Men Dying By Suicide Even as National Rate Declines

U.S. suicide rates fell slightly in 2019 and again in 2020, the CDC reported. But there were some stark outliers. Notably, suicides among Latino men increased by nearly 6 percent.

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Don Sapatkin

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...