BYUH social workers attribute surge of post-election suicide calls to lack of coping skills

Written by: 
Savanna Bachelder


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received nearly three times more calls than usual after the presidential election on Nov. 8, according to CNN.

Victor Kaufusi, an assistant professor of social work at BYU-Hawaii, said, “As human beings, we have a lot of trauma, and we suppress it. Sometimes when there’s an event or something that triggers it, our fears and anxieties come out. For instance, if someone was locked in a room as a child then all of the sudden, they are in an elevator and it gets stuck, it triggers all these emotions and fears.”

Similar spikes in the hotline’s calls occurred after the death of Robin Williams, the shooting of a planned parenthood in San Bernardino, and 9/11, according to CNN. However, a call volume of this magnitude has not been seen in any other election.

Kaufusi continued to comment on the role past trauma had in this surge of calls. “I would say, going with the demographics of those who might have been calling with suicide concerns - whether they be LGBTQ, Muslims, or whatever nationality - I think fear of the unknown could have triggered it, or just the anxiety of what’s to come.

“Sometimes a specific event can trigger a traumatic experience. Whether they follow through or not, we’ll never know. The fact that there were that many [calls] was kind of alarming. It’s something we need to address, as far as mental health care providers go.”

John Draper, a worker at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, commented on the way the election results could trigger past life events. He told CNN, “They call and say it’s the election, but by the end of the call it’s about their lives, and that’s when we can help them.”

BYUH Social Work Program Director Andre Hippolite said a common cause for suicidal thoughts is when people feel they haven’t been heard or understood. “Usually, there is a correlation with dealing with depression as well,” Hippolite continued. “There are higher rates of people dealing with depression and suicide in the LGBT community. Part of that is because they don’t feel heard and understood.

“When trauma is involved, it puts a person at a greater risk of dealing with depression, and they are at a greater risk of suicide. I don’t know specifically [how it relates] to the extra call rates, but also someone is at greater risk of suicide if they have a drug or alcohol problem. So if there is a combination such as trauma, dealing with a drug or alcohol problem, if a person identifies as being LGBT, then they are at a greater risk of suicide. I don’t know how that directly relates to calling, but you can probably infer some things,” Hippolite said.

According to CNN, the Crisis Text Line also saw a substantial increase in people seeking help on election night. The words most commonly used were “election,” “scared,” and “LGBTQ.” The hotline reported 95 percent of the callers were calling with concerns over the election.

Leilani Auna, the director of Counseling and Disability Services at BYUH, said, “From the perspective of a clinician, I think it’s the way people deal with disappointing news. It’s due to a lack of coping skills. We need to think about how to deal with coping, even in regards to the news."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is avaialble 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Date Published: 
Monday, November 28, 2016
Last Edited: 
Monday, November 28, 2016