At Crisis Text Line, we recognize the distinct connection between societal issues, like gun violence and climate change, and our mental health.
Below are issue briefs that lay out the research and provide insight into how mental and emotional well-being may be influenced by societal events.
Centuries of racial oppression, suppression, and violence have embedded racism into our institutions and community interactions. The detrimental impact of covert and overt racism extends beyond physical health and causes sustained and complex trauma. Whether through racial profiling, microaggressions, discrimination, witnessing racial violence against others or other forms of institutional or structural racism, the resulting racial trauma has a direct impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Racial discrimination has been consistently linked to physical and mental health outcomes. Sustained exposure to any form of racism has been linked to chronic stress, which in turn can create subsequent mental health challenges. According to findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics, racism has been linked to birth disparities and mental health problems in children and adolescents.The biological mechanism that emerges from chronic stress leads to increased and prolonged levels of exposure to stress hormones and oxidative stress at the cellular level. As such, the association between discrimination and mental health has been found to be stronger than for physical health.
As a social determinant of health, racial trauma has a direct impact on child and adolescent development. When we experience trauma from a young age, it increases the risk of a wide array of negative health outcomes, such as chronic physical and mental health conditions. Defined as “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACEs”, Black youth have greater exposure rates to traumatic events. In addition, studies have shown decreased psychological, behavioral and emotional functioning among this group of traumatized youth.
Systemic and institutional racism perpetuates racial inequities in healthcare for non-dominant racial groups, including Black, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN), Asian, and LatinX populations. Approximately 50% to 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness and Black people are disproportionately overrepresented in these systems (making up 13% of the U.S. population, but nearly 40% of the prison population.) AI/AN populations experience the highest rates of death by suicide of any demographic (having increased by 20% between 2015 and 2020) and report higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than any other ethic or racial group.
Furthermore, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that Asian people were 60% less likely to have received mental health treatment as compared to non-Hispanic white people and a study found that 70% of Southeast Asian refugees who had received mental health care were diagnosed with PTSD associated with immigration-related trauma. Perceived discrimination has been linked to symptoms of depression in Latin American and Caribbean immigrants and in adults of Mexican origin. However, only 35% of Hispanic/Latinx adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 46%, and just 4% of therapists can provide services in Spanish.
Despite efforts to improve mental health services for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, barriers remain regarding access to quality healthcare. These barriers include stigma associated with accessing mental health treatment, lack of trust in the health systems, lack of culturally competent and racially representative providers, and lack of sufficient insurance. In order to create a more equitable society, we must acknowledge the impact of racial trauma on mental health and wellbeing, and strive to improve access to mental health resources particularly for children and young adults.
Crisis Text Line provides free, anonymous and non-judgmental mental health support in English and Spanish. Those experiencing emotional distress or mental health challenges can connect with us via text, web chat and WhatsApp. Please text HELLO to 741741 or 443-SUPPORT in WhatsApp to be connected to a live, trained volunteer Crisis Counselor or text HOLA to 741741 or 442-AYUDAME in WhatsApp for our Spanish service.
Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and/or questioning (LGBTQIA+) are often marginalized because of societal stigma and prejudice. This discrimination contributes to them being at a significantly greater risk of experiencing mental health challenges and suicidality. A 2017 study found that LGBTQIA+ youth were four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers, and more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth had seriously considered suicide in the previous year. These challenges are further confounded by the lack of culturally responsive behavioral health treatment and care.
At Crisis Text Line, almost 50% of our surveyed texters self-identified as LGBTQIA+, and we understand that this marginalized group is in need of additional mental health support. As we seek to roll out additional services and resources for this population, it is important to look at how state policies impact the mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community.
A research study in collaboration with Crisis Text Line found that proposed anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation was associated with an increase in texts to Crisis Text Line from LGBTQIA+ youth. The corresponding increase in Crisis Text Line-support seeking conversations highlights an urgent phenomenon that such legislation—whether enacted or not—impacts LGBTQIA+ youth well-being and amplifies experiences of emotional distress. State legislative proposals limiting access to specialized services for LGBTQIA+ individuals may also represent a stressful social environment which can confound mental health problems.
Other research suggests that schools can foster well-being among students who identify as LGBTQIA+ by implementing activities such as gay-straight alliances and sexual education that address the needs of sexual minority youth. Schools can also adopt anti-bullying policies that specifically prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Making schools safer places for LGBTQIA+ youth tends to make them more positive places for all youth and, according to a report by The Trevor Project, youth who found their school to be LGBTQIA+-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide. LGBTQIA+ youth, in particular, are in need of additional and culturally competent mental health support and services, in order to address the grave disparities faced by this population.
Crisis Text Line provides free, anonymous and non-judgmental mental health support. For those experiencing emotional distress or mental health challenges, please text HELLO or HOLA to 741741 to be connected to a live, trained volunteer Crisis Counselor.
Climate change is a public health crisis that threatens the physical and mental health of our communities.
Our society is experiencing the real threat of climate change in small and big ways. With the frequency and strength of natural disasters increasing across our globe, there are significant impacts to our health including: food insecurity, lack of housing, contaminated water, and air pollution. As these dramatic changes to our climate continue to impact our everyday lives, we must also examine and prepare for the consequential effects on our mental health.
Personal exposure to natural disasters such as forest fires, hurricanes, heatwaves, and major floods can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s emotional and mental wellbeing. These events are physically and mentally traumatic, causing prolonged distress and anxiety. Extreme weather events have additionally been associated with increases in intimate partner violence and high-risk coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse.
There is increasing evidence that extreme weather events—which are more frequent under a changing climate—can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and trauma. Researchers—in collaboration with Crisis Text Line—investigated mental health support-seeking behaviors in North and South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence in 2018. The study found an increase in conversations discussing anxiety and stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts in the weeks after the hurricane compared to the time before. Another study by the research team found an increase in help-seeking behavior during anomalously warm conditions among young adults. Based on this evidence, the researchers highlighted a crucial need to scale up mental health support for young people navigating weather and climate-related disasters.
Natural disasters can be worse for those with existing mental illness conditions, and may also negatively impact those with substance use disorders in terms of access to critical treatment programs, community support and services. Furthermore, these disruptions can be further exacerbated in marginalized communities grappling with an already fragile community infrastructure and lack of social service support.
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and Trust for America’s Health recently analyzed states’ vulnerability and readiness for climate-related events. This report highlights the increased risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in correlation to climate-related disasters. This evidence not only represents the short-term stress and anxiety felt by those impacted by natural disasters, but the ongoing mental health issues that may persist as a result.
For tips on coping with climate-related stress, here are some resources:
For those experiencing stress, anxiety or depression in correlation to a climate event, please text HELLO to 741741 or 442-SUPPORT in WhatsApp to be connected to a live, trained volunteer Crisis Counselor or text HOLA to 741741 or 442-AYUDAME in WhatsApp for Spanish.
Gun violence is a public health crisis that threatens the physical and mental health of our communities. It deserves a public health response.
Incidents of gun violence and the fear of gun violence in public settings cause tremendous stress, anxiety, and trauma. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28 percent of people who have survived a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder. This presents a preventable strain on our communities and on our under-resourced mental health system. Additionally, the recurrence of these traumatic incidents can be very triggering, inciting vicarious trauma as people witness the violence nationally.
While this is a complicated issue, the risk factors identified in research can help inform a comprehensive set of policy solutions to limit gun violence and correlated mental health stressors.
- There is a correlation between access to lethal means and suicide. Access to firearms increases the risk of suicide and homicide, particularly with those experiencing mental illness symptoms. Additionally, firearms are consistently the most lethal modality for suicide by far. In fact, access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by suicide by 300%. Limiting access to firearms, such as with lock boxes in the home, age restrictions for firearm purchases, and background checks, are critical measures to decreasing suicide risk.
- Mental illness is not a predictor of violence or violent behavior. In fact, the majority of violent acts are committed by individuals who are not diagnosed with a mental illness. It is stigmatizing to individuals with mental disorders, particularly severe mental illness, to unfoundedly label gun violence perpetrators as mentally ill. Negative public perceptions of those with mental illness perpetuate falsehoods that behavioral disorders are not common and not treatable.
- Gun violence and mass shootings cause stress, particularly amongst marginalized communities. According to the American Psychological Association, 44% of Hispanic adults and 43% of African American adults report they do not know how to cope with the stress they feel as a result of a mass shooting (compared with 30% of their white counterparts).
Crisis Text Line is here to support. Our collective vision of a more empathetic world has never been more urgent. This is why we’re here—to build the empathy movement the world needs.
For tips on coping with gun violence, visit this page. Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7.
The Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision on the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which established the precedent of abortion rights on a national level in 1973, can trigger trauma, stress, anxiety, and worry among many Americans. How this decision will impact the physical and mental health of women and that of their families will ultimately depend on state regulations impacting differential access to healthcare. At Crisis Text Line, we meet people where they are, supporting and showing empathy to all texters, no matter their circumstances or beliefs.
In 2021 alone, Crisis Text Line engaged in nearly 1.3 million conversations and de-escalated over 17,000 conversations with people who reached out indicating they were in imminent danger of ending their lives or harming someone else. Additionally, since our founding in 2013, we have fielded over 16,000 conversations about crises that referenced the word “abortion” and the top issues mentioned in these conversations were:
- Relationships (49% of conversations)
- Depression/sadness (39% of conversations)
- Anxiety/stress (35% of conversations)
- Isolation/loneliness (22% of conversations)
- Grief/bereavement (19% of conversations)
Restrictions on reproductive healthcare access, including abortion, can be distressing for women and have shown to cause increased mental health challenges. These challenges, including intimate partner violence, can disproportionately impact young women and under-resourced communities. While this is a deeply personal issue, presenting the research and identifying the threats to women’s safety and wellbeing can help inform debates on abortion access, reproductive health, and mental health.
- Research has found that the stress associated with reproductive health can intensify anxiety and other mental health symptoms during pregnancy. The Turnaway Study, which looked at mental health outcomes of unwanted pregnancies, found that those who were denied an abortion were more likely to suffer anxiety and experience a loss of self-esteem compared to those who were not denied an abortion. They were also more likely to face long-term financial hardships and physical health problems.
- Those who were denied an abortion were also more likely to stay with abusive partners compared to those who were able to obtain an abortion. The American Psychological Association suggests a clear relationship between unwanted pregnancies and intimate partner violence. Similarly, those who seek Crisis Text Line support to discuss pregnancy bring up physical and emotional abuse more often than the average texter.
- The negative impact of abortion bans on mental health is compounded when multiple barriers exist, such as travel, limited clinic options, financial issues, and state or clinic restrictions. People already impacted by poverty, lack of health care access, and racism in the health care system will be disproportionately affected by abortion bans.
- Due to the polarized conversation around reproductive rights, abortions are associated with fear of social judgment, self-judgment, and a need for secrecy, which is associated with increased psychological distress and social isolation, based on a systematic literature review on abortion stigma. This perceived stigma was found to be associated with thought suppression, intrusive thoughts, and psychological distress.
Crisis Text Line is here to support anyone in their moment of crisis. Our collective vision of a more empathetic world has never been more urgent. Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7.
For more information on Crisis Text Line’s Public Policy work, please email email@example.com.