Suicide hotline calls reached record high as Trump victory became clear
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline saw record 660 calls between 1am and 2am on Wednesday, amid particular concerns linked to LGBT community
People protest Donald Trump in Miami. As his coming victory became clear, the number of calls to a suicide prevention hotline surged. Photograph: NR/ ddp USA / Barcroft Images
The number of Americans calling suicide crisis hotlines spiked dramatically on election night, as it became clear that Donald Trump was going to pull off a shock presidential win. The flood of calls has continued.
Trauma counselors reported members of the public filled with uncertainty and worried that a Trump presidency will threaten the safety and civil rights of gay and transgender people, Muslims, African Americans and Latinos.
Between 1am and 2am on Wednesday, shortly before Trump was officially called the winner but when it was obvious Hillary Clinton was on the brink of defeat, a record 660 calls were made to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, two and a half times the average rate at that hour.
The support network Crisis Text Line also experienced an unprecedented surge. Such communications are confidential, but Bob Filbin, chief data scientist at Crisis Text Line, said texts that contained combinations of “scared”, “election”, “family” and “LGBT” were most common.
The network usually receives 1,000 texts in each 24 hours. Incoming texts surged by eight times the normal rate for several hours from around 11pm on Tuesday, Filbin said. Between 9 and 10 November, he said, traffic rose to 4,000 texts per 24 hours, four times the normal volume. On Friday, texts were still coming in at twice the normal volume.
“People were both scared for members of their family in terms of safety and worried about how they would communicate with their family if they held different political views,” Filbin said.
“People said they were scared, they mentioned fears as lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans [LGBT] Americans or for members of their family who are LGBT, and people were mentioning the election.”
Filbin said that there was not a spike in people actually talking about taking their own lives – the spike was related, he said, to people across the US who were feeling great anxiety about the election and were seeking help.
“The vast majority needed someone to listen to them,” he said. “Our trained crisis counsellors listen and discuss how the person is going to cope in the moment.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one of the largest mental health crisis counselling networks in the US, serving people who are simply struggling emotionally or at risk of self-harm or taking their own lives.
Even before the count was finished in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the network’s call centers began receiving a record number of phone calls.
“We haven’t seen anything like that in our history,” said project director John Draper in a report on Friday. The lifeline was started in 2005.
The lifeline had not yet released updated figures for its callers since Trump won and Hillary Clinton acknowledged defeat and then made an emotional concession speech on Wednesday morning.
Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline with experts dealing in transgender issues, reported that it had received 432 calls from election night to Wednesday afternoon. That far surpassed its previous record surge, when it received 251 calls the day after North Carolina passed a bill mandating that individuals use the bathroom that conforms to the gender stated on their birth certificate, even if that does not match their gender identity.
“The Republicans have been moving further and further to the right,” said Greta Martela, co-founder of Trans Lifeline. “For them to have the House, the Senate and the presidency is pretty frightening for LGBT people.”
The Trevor Project, a support network for queer youth under 25, also reported a surge in distress calls as the election results became clear, though the group did not quantify the increased volume.
A spokesperson for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Frances Gonzalez, said its counselors offered coping tips and advised people who had called in about the election results to stick to their normal routine as much as possible and seek out people they felt comfortable talking to.
When people are suicidal the network can suggest seeking professional help, where suitable.
For those in emotional distress, Gonzalez said: “We might suggest limiting your exposure to social media and TV. Perhaps take action in your community by volunteering to do something with kindness and compassion – those things can help.”
- In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.