Texting as Part of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: It’s About Time

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the news and heard that starting next year, people could dial the 988 number to reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline through texting, not just calling.[1]

And when I heard about this, I thought the following: it’s about time. Actually, it’s beyond time.

I should start by saying that having a phone number to dial for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is immensely helpful to have. It can be a vital resource for those in crisis.

However, there are many people who may not be able to, or may not feel comfortable, calling a phone number to talk out loud with someone. Among those who fall into this category are:

  • People who lack the privacy to talk on the phone about what is making them suicidal.
  • People who feel most comfortable expressing what they are going through by way of text messages instead of a phone call.
  • People from marginalized communities for whom marginalization within their own homes is why they feel suicidal. People in the LGBTQ+ community who are not accepted within their own homes come to mind for me, but there are other groups that I’m sure experience this.
  • People who have certain kinds of conditions that prevent them from speaking, but still allow them to write. One example of this for me is that there are some people who are nonverbal because of autism yet are able to communicate through written word.

For those wondering about the Lifeline’s online chat, while it may be helpful in certain circumstances, it faces many of the same shortcomings as calling does for many of the same groups of people, as well as other shortcomings that calling does not face. One notable shortcoming unique to the online chat is that people who are concerned about their online whereabouts being tracked might not want to go to the Lifeline’s chat in the first place. Another issue is that if demand for the chat is too high, people are directed to a list of “Helpful Resources” or calling the lifeline, meaning that the chat is not an option in some cases even if it might be otherwise preferable to calling. While the online chat can be helpful in certain circumstances, there are still large groups of people for whom the online chat is not a viable option, even if one were to assume that someone was available to do the online chatting in the first place.

While I have highlighted the shortcomings of both the dial-in Helpline and the Lifeline’s online chat, this is not to say that texting is going to be perfect. The biggest potential pitfall I can see of the texting element of the Helpline is that texting, in general, can result in major misunderstandings under the best of circumstances, but that in the worst of circumstances could lead to someone taking their life. This is a potential pitfall that I assume the Lifeline is aware of, and one that the Lifeline will have to work to try and prevent.

Even with this pitfall, what it boils down to is that there are many groups of people who will be helped by the existence of a texting element of the Suicide Prevention Helpline, and it is beyond time that such a thing exists. I am so incredibly glad that this will be coming into place next year—it can’t come soon enough for some of the most mentally and emotionally vulnerable among us.

Until such time that the texting Helpline is in place, though, you can call the Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with the Lifeline if you need help.


[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/fcc-decide-texting-upcoming-suicide-prevention-lifeline-988/story?id=81254458

What Is…the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

What appears to be a photo of someone in a prison.

In a post I made a couple of months ago about policing and schools with majority-minority populations, one of the replies to my post reminded me of how there was a connection between what I talked about and something called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And, it is indeed the case that there is a connection between the post I wrote about a couple of months ago and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But what it is the school-to-prison pipeline?

In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[1] This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.

Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:

  • Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency.[2] Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors,[3] issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
  • A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.[4]

So how do we address this pipeline?

For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.

For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.

Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes,[5] which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.

The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.


[1] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[2] There were nearly 70,000 such arrests nationwide in the 2013-14 school year. I would like to see more current data, but this number gives us a sense of how much of a problem this was, as of a few years ago: https://www.edweek.org/which-students-are-arrested-most-in-school-u-s-data-by-school#/overview

[3] https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc/ending-student-criminalization-and-school-prison-pipeline

[4] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[5] https://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem

What Is…Toxic Positivity?

Today’s post is the next installment in the “What is _____?” series, where I go over terms used commonly in social justice circles that may sound like jargon to some.

Today’s “What is_____?” post will focus on a term that I’ve started to hear more about in the mental health and chronic illness communities: toxic positivity. It’s a term that I think is particularly relevant right now during this coronavirus pandemic, hence the reason for publishing this post today, rather than waiting until later during this series.

Toxic positivity is when there is a focus on positive things and positive thinking while, at the same time, rejecting or minimizing emotions that aren’t happy or positive. Examples of toxic positivity can include phrases and sentiments such as “don’t worry so much,” “it’ll be fine” (especially if it’s something chronic or serious that won’t 100% heal), “just think positive,” and “don’t worry, be happy.” Phrases like these, while not ill-intended, can come across as trying to minimize, invalidate, or suppress negative emotions, which is why the positivity is toxic.

It is especially problematic to suppress the negative when you’re living in a time like the coronavirus pandemic. There are times when suppressing the negative is equivalent to suppressing reality. And now is one of those times when to me, at least, suppressing the negative is equivalent to suppressing reality, because reality is that we have suffered great losses in New York City and not even attempts to suppress the negative would take away that reality.

You might be wondering, though, how to avoid this well-intended, yet toxic, positivity. I’ve heard different takes on this, but here’s mine, for the time being: instead of trying to suppress negative thoughts, show empathy. Instead of suppressing the sadness of a friend who just found out about a close relative passing away, try to be sympathetic to what the friend or family member is going through. Instead of trying to tell others not to worry, be a listening ear when they do worry. Instead of telling others to “just think positive,” be willing to talk through the negative emotions if your friend wants to talk through such feelings with you.

In many if not most cases (at least in my experience), people who struggle with toxic positivity genuinely want to help their friend, their family member, or their neighbor. However, there are times when positivity at the expense of minimizing negative emotions is not the best way to go about things, and that empathy is the best course of action, in my assessment. That being said, if any of my readers have alternates to toxic positivity that I didn’t mention here (because there are different takes on toxic positivity and the alternatives to it), or any thoughts on the topic of toxic positivity, I welcome the suggestions and feedback!

How Wintry Weather is Not Friendly to People Struggling Physically or Mentally

An image of snow.

For able-bodied people like me, commuting in the snow takes a little bit more twisting and turning than it does on the average day. It’s annoying, but doable, for me.

For people with certain health challenges, whether it be physical health or mental health, the barriers created by individuals’ and/or society’s handling of winter weather, as well as barriers caused by the bad weather itself, can be problematic. Here are a few such barriers:

We as individuals don’t clear away a path wide enough for wheelchair users to navigate our sidewalks. 

Many wheelchair users need a pathway that’s at least 32 inches, so a pathway shorter than that will most definitely not be friendly to people using wheelchairs. For this, the solution is simple—just clear a wide pathway on our sidewalks!

We as a society have no effective way of handling the crosswalks that get plowed in. 

After major snowstorms, many a crosswalk in New York City, my hometown, get plowed under inches or even feet of snow. This affects wheelchair users, the young, people with other mobility issues (regardless of whether they use a walker or wheelchair or not) and the elderly the most, keeping all of these groups from effectively moving around. I am personally not aware of effective yet reasonable alternatives to this problem, though if anyone has solutions you can let me know in the comments section down below!

Pathways between sidewalks and buses are nonexistent or not wide enough for wheelchair users to pass, or for people with other mobility issues to navigate.

This is something I only noticed during a blizzard in January 2018, but boy is it a problem! Many pathways between sidewalks and buses that should exist don’t exist, making access to the bus impossible unless you’re completely able-bodied as I am. If the entity/entities responsible can shovel a pathway between sidewalks and buses wide enough for wheelchair users and people with other mobility issues to pass, the problem can be fixed.

The bad weather has adverse affects on mental health. 

A string of bad weather days can affect people who deal with claustrophobia (fear of involving being confined to small spaces), and the weather can cause great deals of stress that can be harmful to mental health, to name two. Nobody per se is at fault for these issues, but nevertheless we should be aware that these issues exist.


So next time a snow or ice storm comes, some of us may rejoice while others may complain. But regardless of what our own reactions are, we must be sensitive to the challenges that people with disabilities face in the elements. To that end, feel free to comment below is there’s some issue (physically or mentally) caused by winter weather that I did not mention in this post.

Mass Shootings and Mental Health

Two weekends ago, the United States had two heavily publicized mass shootings within fewer than 24 hours of each other: one in El Paso, Texas, and one in Dayton, Ohio. Between the two mass shootings, over 30 lives were senselessly cut short. 

In the wake of such tragedies, many of us, regardless of political affiliation, try to seek out explanations for these mass shootings. But, given my own openness about mental health on this blog, I think that I need to address just how problematic it is to simply blame mass shootings on mental health problems.

Blaming mass shootings on mental health problems makes me, and other people who’ve struggled with their mental health, feel misunderstood. By blaming mass shootings on mental health problems, we are creating this portrayal of mental health issues as something that is monstrous and seeks to do harm to others. The reality, though, is that there is a range of mental health issues, many of which have nothing to do with a desire to harm others. For example, my intrusive thoughts (unwelcome, unpleasant, and upsetting thoughts and ideas), which I’ve talked about on my blog did not involve even the slightest of desires to harm anyone else; instead, the intrusive thoughts involved a fear of my wanting to do harm to myself, even though I didn’t even want to harm myself. My friends and family who have struggled with anxiety and depression (issues different from intrusive thoughts, by the way) have never expressed a desire to harm others, either. In the wake of many mass shootings, mental illness is often associated with harm of others, even though many of us have mental health issues where we fight against harm of self, not a harm of others.

The consequences of feeling or being misunderstood with mental health are serious. According to mental health experts, stigmatizing mental health issues after mass shootings likely makes it harder for people to seek the treatment they need than it would if mental health issues were not as stigmatized.[1] We, therefore, create a situation where people struggle to seek treatment for conditions that in many cases seek no harm of others, precisely because we link harm to others with mental health issues. That is not what we need if we want to address individual mental health crises.

Even though it is problematic to link mass shootings with mental health issues, we should not ignore the serious problems with America’s mental health system. We should not lose sight of the fact that the United States lacks stand-alone mental health legislation,[2] and we should not lose sight of the fact that many patients in the United States struggle to get access to mental healthcare.[3] If we want to improve individuals’ mental health, we should avoid blaming mass shootings on mental illnesses, but instead improve our mental health care system.


[1] It is worth having this quote from an American Psychological Association statement dated August 4; this quote was published in TIME Magazine: “Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster.”

[2] https://www.who.int/gho/mental_health/policy_financing/policy_health_plan/en/

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/11/29/567264925/health-insurers-are-still-skimping-on-mental-health-coverage