Sad teen being victim of cyber bullying online sitting on a couch in the living room at home

November 19, 2021

FCC unanimously approves text messages to Suicide Prevention 988 line

Sad teen being victim of cyber bullying online sitting on a couch in the living room at home

Suicide prevention hotlines have been around for a long time, but what about millennials who prefer texting? There’s good news: The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously yesterday to improve access to suicide prevention services by allowing people to send text messages to the three-digit number 988, CNN reported. By next July, phone carriers nationally will need to accept both phone calls and texts to 988 and route them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  The agency’s action will make it easier for people in need to get help from a crisis counselor by dialing a short, memorable number that can receive texts or calls –  even text messages or chats sent by computer

The ability to reach the number by text message may also help people who feel suicidal but don’t feel comfortable making a call that might be overheard, Hannah Wesolowski, the director of field advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told CNN. That could include people trapped in a domestic violence situation or LGBTQ people who haven’t come out to housemates or family members. 

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel wrote on Twitter that nearly 6,000 Americans place calls to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline every day, one call every 15 seconds.

Last year some 45,000 people committed suicide, a 3% drop from the previous year, but an increase among people of color, including Hispanic males and non-Hispanic Blacks, Native Americans and Native Alaskans, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Until the launch of the 988 line next summer, people who are feeling suicidal or their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or reach someone through online chat.

A new California law will expand access to mental health care

Five years ago, Greta Christina fell under the weight of a paralyzing depression and reached out to a familiar therapist. But after the initial visit, the time between sessions stretched out longer and longer, according to an NPR story. “To tell somebody with serious, chronic, disabling depression that they can only see their therapist every five or six weeks is like telling somebody with a broken leg that they can only see their physical therapist every five or six weeks,” she says. Now a new California law, Senate Bill 221, will require insurance plans to provide mental health appointments with a gap of no more than 10 business days. Similar laws have been passed in six states, including Texas, Maryland and Colorado. “Knowing that this bill is on the horizon has been helping me hang on,” Christina told NPR.

Why are people with mental illness at greater risk of dying from COVID?

In October the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added mental illness to a long list of conditions that put people at higher risk for being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19, which meant they had priority for COVID vaccines. The recommendation was based on research that showed that people with a psychiatric history were 50% more likely to die from COVID than those without such a history, Yale researcher Luming Li told NPR.

The question is why? Experts offered some theories to NPR. People with a mental disorder may be less likely to protect themselves from infection, said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. For example, if you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, “you may be distracted and forget to use a face mask,” Volkow said. People with severe mental illness tend to be more socially isolated, which “leads to inflammation, immunologic stress, and neurodegenerative decline,” said Ashwin Vasan, CEO and president of the mental health nonprofit Fountain House. He noted that life expectancy among people with chronic mental illness is 25 years less than that of the general population.

Arizona schools trying to take on mental health 

What happens if someone is feeling mentally unwell and doesn’t get help, Katy-Marie Becker, a behavioral health nurse educator, asks students at BASIS Chandler School in Chandler, Arizona. “It’s probably going to get worse,” one replies, according to an article on Becker uses a curriculum developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness called Ending the Silence that educates students about signs that someone is having a mental health crisis and outlines how to respond. Advocates say such support is sorely needed in Arizona, which has the worst student-to-counselor ratio of any state in the country: 881 students per counselor, compared to the recommendation of one counselor for every 250 students. A survey showed 40% of students had experienced dramatic behavior changes and needed social and mental health support and in April the state superintendent of public instruction allocated $21 million to add more counselors. Said Chandler Unified School District board member Armando Montero, “We recognize that it’s a very tough time to be a student right now.”

Then-NYC mayoral Eric Adams candidate at a Queens rally on Oct. 17, 2021. Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock

Will NYC Mayor-elect Adams’ supportive housing plan overcome red-tape hurdles?

In his election campaign, New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams promised to add 25,000 units of “supportive housing” to give the city’s homeless population a better chance of getting off the streets permanently. Supportive housing provides therapists and social workers on site to assist people dealing with mental illness and substance use disorders. The effort will move forward with $100 million approved by state legislators to purchase and renovate hotels for single homeless adults.

But a bureaucratic thicket may slow the process, according to an article in Next City: The housing legislation didn’t make way for zoning reform. That means “NYC hotels would need to go through the city’s contentious planning process prior to conversion,” wrote Roshan Abraham, a housing correspondent for Next City. Other potential obstacles include supply chain snafus, since the materials for hotel conversion are specialized and not readily available. 

In the US, if you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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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.