By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA
Dear CASA Community,
I want to bring your attention to some bright news in the middle of this challenging time. A very important and potentially transformative bill was recently passed by U.S. Congress: S. 2661, or the “National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020.”
This bill would officially designate 988 as the universal telephone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, similar to 911. It would also open the door for improved training and resources to more competently serve specific populations who are at higher risk, such as LGBTQ youth, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans and people from rural communities. This is a bipartisan effort that passed unanimously in the Senate: our legislators agree across the aisle on the need for improved crisis intervention for all people, especially those most vulnerable.
This bill is a big deal. Here’s why.
Each year, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline fields more than 2 million calls, more than 120,000 of which come from Texans. Establishing an easy-to-remember, three-digit phone number will make it easier for people contemplating suicide to quickly get the help they need—saving more lives.
The bill comes at a time when access to high-quality crisis intervention is more needed than ever. With the stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness that COVID-19 brings, people are even more at risk. According to a CDC survey, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health and/or substance use in late-June 2020. In the same survey, 11% of respondents reported suicidal ideation within the previous month, compared to 4% in 2018.
While it has the potential to make a world of difference, the Suicide Hotline Designation Act is not a cure for the heightened challenges our society is facing. Knowing this, here are some things to consider as we continue to take care of ourselves and each other.
It’s important to know that the new 988 number won’t go into effect until 2022, so if someone you advocate for, you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please use and share the current Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Here in Texas, we have a 24/7 statewide COVID-19 mental health support line to help people experiencing anxiety, stress or emotional challenges due to the pandemic. People can call toll-free at 833-986-1919. Counseling services are confidential and free of charge. If you or someone you advocate for is struggling with this, please share the number.
For those of you who have been working from home, continue to be as gentle with yourself as you can. Know that Zoom fatigue is a very real phenomenon, so make sure to take screen breaks, stretch and get fresh air. Do your best to maintain a healthy work-life balance—I’ll be the first to admit that this is much harder to do when home is also the office. Try not to hold yourself to unrealistic expectations. Remember that mental health is an equal partner to physical health.
For those who work in essential service jobs and come into contact with the public, thank you for your service in this unprecedented time. Please continue to take care of yourselves and know that your community values you. We all owe you a debt of gratitude for showing up for everyone and keeping our society functioning.
Physical distancing and isolation is hard, so connect with your friends and loved ones often in whatever ways are safe and possible.
If you’re a CASA volunteer, make sure the child you’re serving knows you’re there for them. Children in foster care are at heightened risk for mental health issues including thoughts of suicide, and with the pandemic, we need to be even more vigilant. Connect them with mental health services and support, and check on them often to lend a listening ear, even if it’s only over text message or Zoom. You make a difference for the child and family you serve today and every day, and sometimes it’s a bigger difference than you might realize. Right now, the little things, like making sure the child you serve has a happy birthday or video chatting about beetles and volcanoes, can matter more than ever.
Let’s build on the momentum of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, continue to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, and take care of ourselves and each other in safe ways. Together, we can work towards a brighter, happier, healthier and more hopeful tomorrow.