Even before the votes were counted on Tuesday night, phone calls were pouring into suicide hotlines across the US in record numbers. Americans, including those in the LGBTQ community, were looking for help coping with feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and a sense of betrayal.
“We haven’t seen anything like that in our history.”
“We haven’t seen anything like that in our history,” says John Draper, project director of the the round-the-clock National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a support line founded in 2005 for people considering suicide or who are in emotional distress. Between 1AM and 2AM on Wednesday morning, the number of calls spiked to 660 in a single hour, 2.5 times more than average. (They only saw a similar jump once before, when actor Robin Williams died by suicide in 2014.)
The Crisis Text Line, a support network that people in distress can contact by text message, received twice as many texts as usual between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The words that showed up in texts most often were “election” and “scared” — and “scared” was most frequently paired with “LGBTQ,” according to a statement. The Trans Lifeline — a suicide hotline for transgender and gender non-conforming people — received 432 calls by Wednesday afternoon. (Their previous record was 251 calls in one day, after North Carolina passed its anti-transgender “bathroom bill” HB2.)
“Scared” was most frequently paired with “LGBTQ”
“The Republicans have been moving further and further to the right,” says Greta Martela, the co-founder of Trans Lifeline. “For them to have the House, the Senate, and the presidency is pretty frightening for LGBT people.”
That’s because a Trump-Pence White House and a Republican Congress could undo eight years of progress that the Obama administration made toward equal rights. During his campaign, Donald Trump told Fox News, “If I'm elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things” regarding same sex marriage. He also supported North Carolina’s bathroom bill that would force transgender people to use the bathroom matching the gender on their birth certificate.
Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has an abysmal track record when it comes to LGBTQ rights: he was against the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He opposed the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, arguing that “freedom of religion” in the workplace is more important than protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. As governor of Indiana, he passed a religious freedom law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. (The law was later amended.) And he believes scientifically rejected claims that LGBTQ people can be “cured.”
“We’re all here for each other, and we care.”
The rhetoric from the Trump-Pence campaign has rattled some patients of Memphis, Tennessee-based psychotherapist Quinn Gee, who specializes in working with racial, gender, and sexual minorities. Many, she says, are stunned by Trump’s unexpected victory. “A lot of people just couldn’t believe that somebody who openly ran on all of these terrible things was supported by a large majority of white people,” Gee says. “It was like, ‘Oh my god, so you really hate me.’ And then the way that the election process was set up, I have no idea who voted, who supports this.”
Gee says three of her clients between the ages of 10 and 14 needed to be placed on emergency suicide hold after the election. The children were stressed and afraid for the future, because their parents were undocumented immigrants, or because their parents were gay, Gee says.
“To listen to the divisive language that we heard throughout the campaign season led to a lot of anxiety in general, but particularly among LGBTQ youth who aren’t able to be open with family and friends,” says Steve Mendelsohn, executive director of The Trevor Project, a free support network for LGBTQ youth under age 25 that’s available by chat, text, or phone. Calls to The Trevor Project increased in the hours between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — although Mendelsohn couldn’t say exactly by how much. “It’s important to reach out to young people and to others to let them know that we’re all here for each other and we care,” Mendelsohn says.
“We will survive this the way we have survived every other election.”
LGBTQ youth are especially vulnerable because they already face a devastatingly high burden of suicide. In a survey of middle school and high school students, young adults who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were twice as likely to have reported attempting suicide than their classmates. Of 6,000 transgender and gender non-conforming adults, 41 percent reported having attempted suicide. About a quarter of transgender teens reported previous suicide attempts in a much smaller study. By comparison, 4.6 percent of the general population has attempted suicide, and researchers think that this disparity is in part due to the prejudice and discrimination that LGBTQ people can face at home, in their communities, and from the American government.
Fortunately, more and more people know about the helplines, and are using them like never before, advocates say. But even without the helplines, there are techniques people can use to try and feel better. Putting the situation into perspective can help, says David Kaplan, the chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association. “We encourage people ... to use de-catastrophizing statements like, ‘The United States has survived 44 previous elections,’” he says. “‘I don’t like the outcome, it upsets me, but we will survive this the way we have survived every other election in the United States.’”
“We need to be be looking after each other.”
And for people feeling anxious and overwhelmed, it’s especially important to do the things we know make us feel better like sticking to routines, going to work, and working out, says Draper at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We should feel free to disconnect from the news and reconnect with friends, family, and loved ones. Even being compassionate to strangers and volunteering can help give people back their sense of control. “We can do something to take care of ourselves and others in ways that make a difference,” Draper says.
And that’s more key right now than at any other time. “This is crunch time, this is when it matters,” Martela adds. “We need to be be looking after each other, trying to get through the next four years of what I’m sure is going to be an absurdist nightmare.”
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, here are a few resources:
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis | http://www.crisistextline.org/
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 | http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention guide: http://b.3cdn.net/trevor/ae0151279fe7898acd_22vm6o0uv.jpg
National Alliance on Mental Illness on LGBTQ Mental Health: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ