Vintage image of a white kitten answering a pink phone
Vintage image of kitten answering phone

Hotlines Can Help Answer California’s Call for Mental Health Support

Within months of the stay-at-home orders last March, the mask of civil society slipped. By September, it became clear that although we may all be in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. A New England Journal of Medicine editorial “Pandemic within a Pandemic, Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19,” reported that people of all races, cultures, sexual orientation and socioeconomic class reported an increase in what is now being called intimate partner violence.

“This pandemic has reinforced important truths: inequities related to social determinants of health are magnified during a crisis, and sheltering in place does not inflict equivalent hardship on all people,” wrote doctors Megan L. Evans and Maureen E. Farrell in “Pandemic within a Pandemic.”

In a given year, one in five people experiences a mental health challenge, though now 2020 data has surely skewed that number. A common cause for these high numbers is loneliness. Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Surgeon General, published findings in the book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Dr. Murthy links loneliness to several public health epidemics including alcohol and drug addiction and depression.

The magnification of such hardships has revealed that Californians need much more help managing mental health. “Suicide and mental health help is something desperately needed in this state of California,” said John Ramos, who put CA-Assembly Bill 2112 into play with approval from Gov. Newsom last fall to create best practices for the prevention of suicide. As such, the Office Of Suicide Prevention now exists within the state Department of Public Health.

Grappling with this beast is not going to be easy, though. California has a largely decentralized public mental health system. 2018 US Census Bureau poverty data shows that California was tied with Florida and Louisiana for one of the three states with the highest poverty rate in the country. Many in this demographic may not even know that help could be available.

Fortuitous, then that local community initiatives have already built infrastructure to hold up the less-regarded communities. Bay Area-based Trans Lifeline, for example, supports trans people living at the crossroads of transphobia, misogyny, and economic bias. The callers to Trans Lifeline express ongoing worries that society will turn on them.

Not an idle worry, as it happens. A 2015 national trans survey found that three out of four trans people have experienced workplace discrimination. It also found that 36% of California trans people had endured recent serious psychological distress.

In the Netflix documentary Disclosure, actor Laverne Cox describes her brushes with both white supremacy and transphobia while riding on the NYC subway. This is consistent with the findings that among trans people, trans women of color are disproportionately exposed to violence.

This public hostility was examined in the book Whipping Girl, A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. The author Julia Serrano finds that trans women of color are seen as having two counts against them — The first, for not being white and the second, for not being male in a male-centered gender hierarchy.

“There is a mental toll it takes going out daily and being met with street harassment and with threats of violence,” says Bri Barnett, Trans Lifeline’s Director of Development. Barnett reported that since last March, the hotline has recorded a 40% increase in calls from individuals actively considering ending their lives.

The Office of Suicide Prevention might consider addressing the California mental health crisis with peer support hotlines. If it can do this, then AB-2112 will be off to a pretty good start in 2021.

Reach Trans Lifeline at (877) 565–8860

Writes about people working on resilience, hopes to start a one-woman band with a singing Husky.