Crisis Hotlines Are Being Flooded with Post-Election Calls

The Crisis Text Line recorded double the number of normal incoming texts in the 24 hours surrounding election night.

|
Nov 10 2016, 7:27pm

It would be an understatement to say a lot was happening at 2 AM yesterday morning. Donald Trump had just been declared president-elect of the United States, markets were crashing around the world, millions of Americans were crying, millions were cheering.

And in New York, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was flooded with calls.

"As the evening wore on, we saw a doubling of calls," John Draper, the Lifeline's director, told me. "We had about a 140 percent increase over normal number of calls. At 1 AM alone, 166 people called in, which is something we haven't typically seen."

Draper told me the only other time he's seen that kind of call volume was in the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, when there was lots of media attention promoting the Lifeline number. "What was different about the election," he said, "is that to my knowledge there was not a lot of promoting of the Lifeline number—there was a lot of active seeking out of the number online."

The Lifeline wasn't the only crisis hotline experiencing such an unprecedented influx as the results rolled in. The Crisis Text Line, which allows anyone to connect immediately over text with a trained crisis counselor, recorded double the number of normal incoming texts in the 24 hours surrounding election night.

"The words 'election' and 'scared' are the top two things being mentioned by texters," Liz Eddy, the Crisis Text Line's director of communications, told me.

"I worked at [a psychiatric hospital in Boston] during the Boston Marathon bombings, and even that didn't affect people in the same way." — Danielle Cohn

Individual therapists also noted an unprecedented amount of panic and anxiety over the election. Danielle Cohn, a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at American University, has worked in the outpatient practice of a DC-based mental health clinic for three years and told me she's never had any world event come up as much with clients as with this election.

"I worked at McLean [a psychiatric hospital in Boston] during the Boston Marathon bombings, and even that didn't affect people in the same way," she told me. "This election is much more personally triggering for people."

There are many reasons why Donald Trump's election to the White House would be triggering for the millions of Americans who have been traumatized, brutalized, and marginalized based on the color of their skin, their country of origin, the religion they practice, their gender, or their sexual orientation. People of color, who have spent much of 2016 watching systematic violence and killing by police officers and civilians, may reasonably fear that Trump's America will include threats to their life. Sexual assault survivors must be reminded every day that their country can more easily forgive a man with over a dozen assault allegations against him than they can a woman who mismanaged her email server. And LGBTQ Americans will have to live under a vice president who supports "conversion therapy." (Eddy told me "the most common association with 'scared' was 'LGBTQ.'")

"People are afraid of Trump's beliefs and the policies he might enact based on them," Cohn told me. "This is true with sexual trauma in particular. What he has said and done to women over the years affects what people are working through as it pertains to rape and sexual assault. His election confirms to many people that if they do speak out about their assault, people may not believe them."

And it's not just theoretical: Concrete examples of violence and bigotry have permeated the election, and Election Day itself. With election day falling on the 78th anniversary of the Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) attacks on Jews in Germany, the words "Sieg Heil 2016," "Trump," and a Nazi swastika were spray-painted onto a glass storefront in Philadelphia. "Black Lives Don't Matter, and Neither Does Your Vote" was graffitied near Durham, North Carolina. A Trump supporter beat, robbed, and ripped the hijab off a Muslim student at the University of Louisiana. At a Walmart, also in Louisiana, a woman says another woman pulled off her hijab and threatened to hang her with it. A male student reportedly grabbed a girl's breast at school and told her it was "his right." "Fuck Niggers" and "Make America Great Again" were scrawled in a bathroom stall in a Minnesota high school.

Both the National Suicide Prevention's Lifeline and the Crisis Text Hotline are specifically set up to handle unexpected influxes of calls, as in the wake of events like 9/11 and mass shootings. So even with double the call volume, they told me they were prepared to listen and talk to everyone. Many crisis centers have offered the same advice to the general public about what to do if Trump's election has been triggering: "Limit your interaction with people and things that might aggravate your stress right now," Frances Gonzales, National Suicide Prevention Hotline's director of communications, told me.

"If your parents voted for the other party, maybe avoid talking politics with your parents for a few days," Eddy added. "Over 5 percent of texters yesterday mentioned anxiety about family disagreements over the election."

Already, Trump's election has proved to many vulnerable populations that the country is hostile to them and indifferent to the perpetuation of their traumas. That what little protection they had painstakingly constructed over the years could be reversed in the course of a night. No wonder calls were spiking.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Follow Elizabeth Nicholas on Twitter.