December 16, 2021

Good morning, MindSite News Readers! In today’s newsletter, you’ll learn how a rapper’s song on suicide prevention appeared to lead to a decrease in suicides. You’ll also learn about a town in England that has developed a world-renowned model to fight loneliness. Plus: a pioneer of non-police crisis response is expanding its reach.

Logic’s suicide prevention song linked with drop in suicides, study shows

Napa, CA/USA: 5/24/19: Sir Robert Bryson Hall II aka Logic performs at BottleRock in Napa. He’s an American Grammy-nominated rapper. In 2019 he released his 5th album Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

When rapper Logic’s song about a conversation between a suicidal caller and a counselor at a suicide prevention hotline hit the top of the charts, something extraordinary happened: The number of suicides actually dropped, according to a study covered by STAT News. Logic titled the 2017 song “1-800-273-8255” – the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – and it became a smash hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Now an unusual study suggests the song, which features an exchange with a counselor that changed the suicidal caller’s mind, may have saved hundreds of lives. Researchers looked at three events where the song was highlighted: the release of the song in 2017, the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, and the 2018 Grammy Awards. They found that those events were associated with nearly 10,000 more calls to the Lifeline and a 5.5 percent decrease in suicides, according to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal’s annual Christmas edition. 

In an interview with Genius, Logic, a biracial artist and tw0-time author who records for the Def Jam label, said he was inspired to write “1-800-273-8255” by fans who told him his music inspired them to keep living. “They’ve said things like, ‘Yo, your music has saved my life,’” Logic said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life. And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life — now what could happen if I actually did?”

Researchers had to factor out other media events that occurred around the same time as the song’s height in popularity, including the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” which was associated with an increase in suicides.“There’s still a great deal of power and media around promoting stories of hope and recovery, but it’s also a reminder that there is a tide that we have to swim against,” said John Draper, the executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and a co-author of the study. “Most stories continue to be about suicides and hopelessness, and casting that shadow consistently in the media over people in despair can actually make a dark night darker.” 

‘Mobile Crisis Response 101’ course to be offered by pioneering CAHOOTS program to groups nationwide

The hippie health clinic that three decades ago pioneered a system for dispatching mental health responders – rather than uniformed cops – to help people experiencing mental health and drug crises, is going to share its secrets in a class. “We’re teaching, like, mobile crisis response 101,” said Abbey Carlstrom, who works with the consulting and outreach team of Eugene, Oregon-based CAHOOTS – Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. “We were receiving lots of interest about our program, more so than we knew what to do with,” Carlstrom told the hometown newspaper in Eugene, The Register-Guard. The curriculum will be based on the 30 years of experience of the crisis response team, which was formed by counter-culture medics, social workers and activists. “Representatives from various cities, counties and organizations, including our own, will work together to create new systems full of vibrant community-based strategies that move us away from coercive, carceral and racism-driven approaches to mental health crises, unhoused communities and drug use,” Rory Elliot, a CAHOOTS spokesperson, told The Register-Guard.

For an in-depth exploration of the CAHOOTS program, check out this story from MindSite News editor Rob Waters: 

Enlisting Mental Health Workers, Not Cops, In Mobile Crisis Response

CAHOOTS, a thirty-year-old Oregon program, has reduced calls to police and saved money. Now it’s going national.

A daughter uses memoir to connect and understand her mother’s mental illness

It was during her teenage years that Grace Cho noticed changes in her mother that were bewildering. Cho was just a baby when her mother emigrated from Korea with her white father to an all-white town in rural Washington state. She watched as her mother coped with the feeling of being an outsider by foraging for wild mushrooms and cooking for white neighbors. Then her mother stopped foraging and began talking to herself. “It sounded like she was arguing with somebody who wasn’t in the room…She started to say things like, ‘Well, Ronald Reagan has our phones tapped,'” Cho said in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. Cho’s mother, Koonja, was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In her 2021 memoir, Tastes Like War, Cho writes about how she pieced together parts of her mother’s traumatic past. Her mother was separated from her family as a refugee at age 9 and was a sex worker during the Korean War, according to a sister-in-law. Cho wonders if those traumas might have contributed to her mother’s mental illness. The memoir, says Cho, “is motivated by my love for my mother and my desire to honor her, by trying to understand her history and to really denounce the shame and the stigma that damaged her psyche — and to do the same for other people who might be attached to some label like “schizophrenic” or “sex worker.”

Do digital mental health interventions help? It’s a mixed bag, according to a new study

If you’re depressed and reach for online mental health help, a new study suggests that doing so is better than doing nothing, according to an article in HealthDay. In an analysis of 83 studies, researchers also found that platforms that offer interactive features, such as those that provide homework or feedback, did better than self-help platforms. 

But do digital platforms really make a difference in helping people through depression? It’s apparently too early to tell. More than 10,000 apps promise help with mental health, but only four well-crafted studies have tested that thesis, according to Issac Moshe, of the University of Helsinki in Finland, the study’s lead author. Says Moshe:  “This suggests that many of the apps currently available for download do not have a strong evidence base supporting them.” 

The English town that is beating loneliness

Sunday Market Day in Frome, England, 2014. (Credit: Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock)

In 2013 a physician in Frome, England, secured a grant that she hoped would help her patients connect with others so they wouldn’t feel so isolated. Helen Kingston, who works at the Frome (pronounced Froom) Medical Practice, used the money to hire someone to identify resources to bridge that gap. The town of nearly 30,000 now has a thriving social life that includes eight paid “connectors” and another 1,140 volunteer “community connectors” trained in linking residents to community services and groups, according to an article in The New York Times. The clinic has tapped people in the community to set up gatherings to share skills like woodworking and computer savvy. At its now-famous Talking Bench, volunteers “wait each Wednesday morning to talk to anyone who just wants to chat,” according to the Times.

“It’s not just lonely people who benefit from more social connections, we all have that basic human need and by recognizing that fact you can support people instead of waiting until there’s a crisis,” Kingston told the Times.  

But how do you measure the effect of this shift? In 2018, retired palliative care specialist Julian Abel published a report in a British Medical Journal based on data that showed that emergency hospital admissions in Frome fell by 14% between 2013 and 2017, while rising 29% in the broader county of Somerset, which has similar demographics. “There are no other interventions which have ever reduced population emergency admissions like this,” said Abel, who calls the results a “medical miracle.” Frome’s work connecting people led then Prime Minister Theresa May to create a Ministry of Loneliness in 2018 to tackle such problems in other communities, a move that has been followed in Australia and Japan.

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.

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Laurie Udesky

Laurie Udesky reports on mental health, social welfare, health equity and public policy issues from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.