June 8, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. Today we look at one of the most troubling problems with the rollout of the national 988 mental emergencies hotline: the many states that have not funded the crisis call centers that are needed to make it work. And in other news: men who think they are healthier than they are, members of new sobriety clubs who claim they are “more empowering and fun” than Alcoholics Anonymous, and living with Tourette syndrome.

Time for states to fund the 988 hotline is running out


During a mental health crisis, there’s not a moment to waste. That’s why Congress approved the creation of a national hotline for mental health emergencies. Beginning July 16th, Americans will no longer have to memorize the 10-digit number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; they’ll simply need to dial 988 to be connected to a crisis counselor. Theoretically.

Many crisis call centers across the country remain critically understaffed and underfunded, NBC News reports. But even worse, 30 states haven’t managed to produce legislation to fund the 988 hotline. Jennifer Piver is the executive director of Mental Health America of Greenville County, which runs the only certified suicide prevention call center in in South Carolina. Piver said the agency has all the technology it needs for the call center to fully function, but lacks the funding to pay staff to work. Although unanswered calls to her center will be rerouted to centers outside of South Carolina, she told NBC News, that’s not good enough. 

“Our concern is that youth won’t wait to be answered, or that someone who has done something to end their life would die, because we can’t get them to the emergency services that they would need fast enough,” said Piver. Moreover, psychologist Julie Cerel said, callers who have to wait for help may not call back the next time they’re in a mental health emergency – or worse. “If they are in a crisis where they’re suicidal or thinking of ending their life, it could lead them to hang up the phone and attempt suicide or die by suicide,” she said.

New sobriety clubs mean never having to say you’re alcoholic

Anthony Eder told Insider that he stopped drinking after becoming a member of The Luckiest Club, an online sobriety support community that costs members a minimum $14 per month in exchange for 35 private meetings per week and 24/7 access to private online forums. Rather than recover anonymously, Eder said The Luckiest Club has enabled him to “recover out loud.” In the past, Eder drank heavily drinking, topping off two bottles of wine each night – with no memory of what happened. But the club doesn’t require that he call himself an alcoholic. Having found great success as a member, Eder now leads three club meetings each week.

The online club approach is one that leaders argue is “a less judgmental, more empowering, and even fun way” to live sober. Members aren’t alcoholics; they’re citizens of a society that glamorizes drinking. There are no relapses, only “data points” from which to learn. 

While some addiction experts are concerned by the costs of online programs and say avoiding the word “alcoholic” further stigmatizes uncontrolled drinking, it’s hard to argue that there’s no room for improvement in the self-help world. Alcoholics Anonymous is free to participants, but it’s long-term effectiveness isn’t well established. According to Insider, “One large study showed 49% of AA members were abstinent after eight years, while a former Harvard psychiatry professor says he’s found it’s effective for as few as 5% of participants.” Nonetheless, addiction specialists interviewed said that any peer-support networks should only be used in conjunction with proven treatments for alcohol recovery, including therapy and, if necessary, medication.

Living with Tourette syndrome

Billie Eilish performs in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

To let film and TV tell the story, people with Tourette syndrome (TS) offer involuntary comedic relief, swearing loudly and without warning whenever they’re awake. In reality, loud, involuntary swearing, known as coprolalia, affects a minority of people with TS. There is a wide range of “tics” that involve sound and movement people with TS experience – some of which may not even be visible to others. In addition, people with TS often have other conditions, like ADHD or obsessive compulsive disorder. Superstar singer-songwriter Billie Eilish was recently open about her life with the condition in an interview with David Letterman. Thanks to her transparency, Tourette syndrome is being discussed widely on social media, and The Guardian connected with a handful of average citizens in the UK to get insight into the reality of living with Tourette’s.

In one case, Laura Allen, a 20-year-old student in Glasgow who suffered from tics, didn’t consider that she might have had TS for years, because she “​​thought it was just a thing that made people swear.” But she’s managed the anxiety and social consequences of her tics since childhood, recalling times when she was kicked out of class for involuntary eye-rolling or sighing, offending her teacher. Over the years, she’s developed other tics, both physical and verbal, that most often occur when she’s stressed. 

Now, as a college student, she spends her days suppressing her tics, often to the point of exhaustion. “Society jokes about Tourette syndrome being a swearing condition but it is so much more than that,” said Allen, who is working with a neurologist to control her syndrome. “I’m not in control of whether I get hurt or bruised. My thoughts, speech and actions are out of my control and it’s exhausting, my brain is constantly active. It causes people a lot of physical pain, and a lot of emotional pain, too. You just have to take every day as it comes.”

In other news…

Why do men skip medical checkups? Because two-thirds report with satisfaction that they are healthier than the majority of men — in fact, simply “naturally healthier than others in general.” That’s the not-so-surprising (to wives) findings from a Harris poll for Florida’s Orlando Health. Dr. Thomas Kelley of Orlando Health Physician Associates frowned on this seeming self-deception, noting it’s a “statistical impossibility” that most men are healthier than most men. He notes that silent problems like rising blood pressure may go unnoticed and develop into “a ticking time bomb that can result in a heart attack or stroke.”

The tragic search for utopia: What a curious excerpt in this week’s Yes! Magazine. Author Adrian Shirk has written an entire book on the search for a place she believes will never exist. Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Searching for an American Utopia is ostensibly about her quest for a utopian community that can guarantee the elimination of widespread economic and social distress – without imploding in less than one generation. The history of American utopias, however, dooms this task to failure.

A promising update from New Mexico: In almost one year of operation, a crisis triage center in Las Cruces, New Mexico has served nearly 600 people, the Las Cruces Bulletin reports.

Beginning this summer, experts in mental health in New Jersey will begin accompanying officers on 911 calls related to behavioral health. Speaking to Gothamist, Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said, “This program is a recognition by law enforcement, as well as by the communities, that there are actually people with better expertise in handling an incident of emotional or mental distress.”

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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Courtney WiseReporter

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...