Health

Crisis calls rise, counselors cite election as the cause

Spring, September see traditional increases

Leona Childs, crisis counselor, talks with someone on the crisis hotline at the Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapi
Leona Childs, crisis counselor, talks with someone on the crisis hotline at the Foundation 2 Crisis Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Crisis calls to Linn and Johnson County crisis centers have risen in the past few months — possibly in part, officials say, due to the presidential election.

Calls, texts and online chats for the year overall have increased for Cedar Rapids’s Foundation 2 and the Crisis Center of Johnson County, and calls during October and November of 2016 increased during the same time in 2015.

Foundation 2 received 27,873 calls, texts and chats in 2016 compared to 24,638 in 2015. In October 2016 alone, it received 214 more calls — for a total of 2,582 — over the same month the year before.

In November, it got 135 more calls over November 2015, for a total of 2,420.

The agencies answer local calls as well as calls going to various national suicide hotlines from people feeling suicidal or experiencing a crisis.

Sara Sedlacek, Crisis Center communication and development director, said it received two calls related to the election from January to September 2016. But from October to December 2016, the election was mentioned 112 times.

THE ELECTION’S INFLUENCE

Cheryl Plotz, program coordinator for the crisis counselors at Foundation 2, said they traditionally see a spike in suicide calls each May, June and September.

In September, “we’re entering into that time where there’s less light. That’s a big deal, and the anticipation of cabin fever,” Plotz said.

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“The reason it explodes in the spring is because a person who struggles with depression sees all the life coming into the world. They feel even more separate from that new beginning.”

This fall, however, Foundation 2 saw a spike in calls because, Plotz said, the election compounded callers’ existing conditions.

“To have these seven or eight calls in one night about the election specifically is significant,” she said.

Drew Martel, coordinator for the free mobile crisis service at Foundation 2, said the amount of mobile crisis outreach calls it provides increased about 100 percent to 150 percent in the months leading up to the election.

The service consists of a team of crisis counselors who drive to help a caller living anywhere in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Independence and Manchester.

“We’re seeing spouses arguing more, we see kids arguing more, just mental health breakdowns,” Martel said. The recent presidential campaign season “was anxiety provoking as both political sides felt there was a lot at stake. The message was, ‘This is the most important election.’

“Civil disagreement has gone away. We see families now that don’t get along. It’s no longer that ‘you disagree with me for the good of the country,’ it’s ‘you disagree with me because you’re an idiot,’ or ... ’you don’t care about the country.’”

Martel and Plotz said because of the contentious issues discussed during the election cycle, they received calls they’d never heard before, such as:

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— Parents of a Hispanic family that came to the country illegally fearing they would be deported

— An Asian man worrying his family and friends would be sent to an internment camp or be the targets of hate crimes

— A woman fearing she would lose her insurance coverage for mental health care and become a bigger burden on her family.

Plotz said Foundation 2 was informed of six suicides in Linn County that occurred between Nov. 8 and 14. Though there is no way of knowing if the election played a significant role in those deaths, Plotz and Martel noted existing conditions — anxiety disorders, for example — could be exacerbated by hyperbole and polarization during the election.

“We know that most of those (November suicides) happened because of relationship struggles,” Plotz said. “How the stress of our world plays into that, there’s no real known information.”

“It’s usually a catalyst to a lot of other things that are going on in their life,” said Beau Pinkham, crisis intervention program coordinator at the Crisis Center. “For a lot of marginalized people, this was just an additional stress. The issues they’re already experiencing were brought to the forefront and talked about publicly, often.”

COPING WITH STRESS

When someone calls a crisis hotline, counselors are trained to validate feelings, asking why the person might be experiencing a crisis. They aim to act as sounding boards, letting callers come to their own conclusions on wanting referrals for long-term professional help.

It’s important to understand why someone may contemplate suicide to get them proper care, Plotz added. For some callers, suicide is a problem-solving tactic. And mental illness can hinder a person’s ability to be resilient and cope with stress.

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“It’s a way to get rid of the pain that they’re feeling,” Plotz said. “Not all of us who live through the election and loss of relationships want to kill ourselves. There’s a certain aspect of that problem solving that’s been (affected).”

Foundation 2’s Martel said it receives calls for the mobile crisis outreach for families during the holidays, as well. He said counselors begin by asking family members why they called Foundation 2 that day versus years past.

“A lot of times we hear, ‘Grandma was the glue that held us together. Grandma isn’t here anymore, ’” Martel said of people who call for Foundation 2’s mobile crisis outreach this time of year.

He advised families can use the moment as a starting point to work together to change family dynamics, and Foundation 2 often refers them to other long-term service providers.

Where to find help

Here are some crisis hotlines and websites where you can reach out to speak with a crisis counselor:

— Foundation 2 — (319) 362-2174, www.foundation2.org

— The Crisis Center of Johnson County — (319) 351-0140, www.jccrisiscenter.org

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255

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For Spanish Speakers — 1-888-628-9454

Trans Lifeline — (877) 565-8860

The Trevor Project — 1-866-488-7386

Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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