Shocked and in despair, Americans jammed the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (NSPL) as results from the US Presidential Election trickled in November 9, 2016. “Clinically speaking, it was citizens expressing their fears and disappointment,” explains psychiatrist Dr. Bindu Shanmugham, Medical Director, Veteran Administration Healthcare System, in California. Her observations are confirmed by information released by Paul Draper, Director, NSPL, highlighting that between 1am-2am the national network fielded 660 calls nearly thrice the normal call volume. 72 hours later, the calls declined somewhat. Much like the outcome, this too was unprecedented in the history of suicide prevention programmes.
Since the first 72 hours of crises intervention by NSPL, the burden to provide service has to other help lines that have witnessed a similar increase in call volume. The Trevor Project for the LGBT community and Text Line lead the group. A direct link between the outcome of the 2016 US Election and the anxious state in which Americans were flocking to NSPL was evident to most people. Harvard doctoral graduate in Public Health, Dr. Priyaa R.S. saw the signs as soon as early voting commenced.
“As a public health scientist I observed election increased stress among people even before the Election Day,” recalls Dr. Priyaa, presently Director of Research & Clinical Assistant Professor- Goldman School, Boston University. Her colleague sent in her vote through early ballot instead of waiting until November 9 unable to handle the stress of waiting until polling day. She adds: “Post-election stress stems from a state of constant volatility and people are therefore bound to feel anxious and call out for help.”
The last time the Suicide Prevention Hotline was swamped by calls was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. On November 9, and immediately after, anxiety driven callers dialed the NSPL to discuss “the election, the results, and their life.” Those that found the hotline jammed turned to relatives, friends and party-supporters for strength and counseling. Like Gary Henderson from New York who was stunned by the election of Donald Trump as President Elect. “I was feeling numb, sick and wanted to cry but the tears were just not there,” he recalls. A friend who had sought help from Crisis Text Line, which connects texters with crisis counselors stepped in to help talking “future and hope” with Henderson.
Reports on the Text Line volume indicate that the crisis line, founded 2013, which normally receives 1,000 texts saw numbers double in 24 hours. In 48 hours, the first-time Text Line has had to deal with crises related to politics, the numbers reached a shocking 4,000. Michelle Wighins, an aspiring doctor, from Utah felt vulnerable as she reached out to discuss “the anti-LGBT views held by President Elect Trump and Vice President Elect Pence.” She has been meditating to stay calm. In New York, Gary hit the gym to let off steam. The 2016 US Presidential Election has stirred pre-existing worries, vulnerabilities, feelings of loss and anger.
From health care, to LGBT rights, immigration reform to targeting Muslims, the callers addressed concern and fear about how President Elect Trump will govern in these critical areas. Hence, besides an empathetic ear callers receive lessons in Positive Psychiatry. According to Dr. Bindu “Focusing on skills of flexibility, optimism, resilience is crucial at such times. Given the fact that people are reacting from emotional reasoning and not logical reasoning receiving crisis counseling helps people feel reassured. That said, people can be proactive and participate in activities that make them feel better be it meditation, introspection, work, or even just having a conversation.” Given the group hugs and water-cooler conversations doing the rounds, it appears, Americans battling the “off-the-cliff” feelings post Mr. Trump’s victory are doing just that, and more.