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How the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline has helped marginalized communities

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

988 hotline workers are not only dealing with an increased volume of calls, but they are seeing more calls from non-English-speaking people. We're going to turn now to a conversation I had with Natalie Gutierrez. She's a New York-based author and therapist who treats intergenerational trauma and other forms of complex post-traumatic stress. I asked her how the 988 hotline is helping some of the marginalized communities she sees in her practice.

NATALIE GUTIERREZ: I'm appreciative that there is a space that you can reach out to 24/7 for everyone, and especially marginalized communities that just struggle sometimes even talking with other people face-to-face about just what they're holding and the pain that they're carrying.

BROWN: And it seems like the negative stigma often associated with mental health has been changing in recent years - social media, more people speaking out. What are you actually hearing among migrant communities?

GUTIERREZ: Well, I think we still have a ways to go for that stigma to shift. And I think we're getting a lot more people using these helplines, using these crisis lines, because folks are really trying to move away from these stigmas, from these stereotypes of, you know, being seen as weak for seeking help. And so I think we're seeing some of a rise in folks using these resources because there's a movement away from wanting to stay in the place of internalizing those stereotypes and those stigmas. What I want to see also is brainstorming and collaborating collectively on how we can also prevent suicide and crisis in different ways. What are we doing structurally and institutionally to shift things for marginalized communities and folks that are, you know, immigrants and everyone? We're actually creating or tending to the actual wounding and the things that actually need to shift in our society.

BROWN: And there are still some barriers, some basic barriers for migrants...

GUTIERREZ: Right.

BROWN: ...To access mental health services. Talk about that.

GUTIERREZ: The barriers to mental health are financial resources to access them, and I think also having access to mental health resources and psychologists or just medical professionals, clinicians that also aren't pathologizing, especially folks that have racialized identities - Black, Indigenous, POCs, coming from lineages where ancestors were experimented on medically. And so there's already - a lot of the time folks are coming in with distrust toward medical systems and medical professionals and authority, and it can be really hard to then meet with medical professionals that are then going to maybe label you or just give you a diagnosis. And sometimes these are larger diagnoses. And then comes the shame and the stigma attached to how folks then see themselves...

BROWN: Right.

GUTIERREZ: ...Or how they're treated by even their practitioners and within their own communities and their own families. So these things really have ripple effects.

BROWN: So do you think this hotline can actually help save lives?

GUTIERREZ: Absolutely. I think it's going to be really helpful in offering folks a space if their therapists are not available at the moment and they're feeling like they have an urge to self-harm or to lean towards suicide or just are in crisis and need someone to connect with, that they can call here and use this as a support, as something to lean on. And there has to be more that comes from that after.

BROWN: That's therapist Natalie Gutierrez. Her book, "The Pain We Carry," provides tools for people experiencing complex post-traumatic stress. Thanks again.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.