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How mental crisis centers have tried to weather the COVID-19 storm



How mental crisis centers have tried to weather the COVID-19 storm

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It’s been a traumatic 12 months for the thousands of queer teens who have contacted the Trevor Project, a mental-health crisis and suicide-prevention center.

First there was the coronavirus pandemic, which blocked many people from physically socializing with friends or attending schools in person. Then there was the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, which became a tipping point in the fight against racism.

Adding to the turmoil recently were the Capitol riots, particularly for young people of color, explained Tia Dole, the Trevor Project’s chief clinical operations officer.

“It is such a shock to see the differential treatment of the people who took the Capitol versus what happened with [Black Lives Matter] protesters or other protests over the summer,” she said. “It was reinforcement of the belief that they are not equal citizens in this country.”

For crisis centers like the Trevor Project, the coronavirus pandemic and recent political upheaval have proved to be major challenges for counselors and volunteers. The Trevor Project, like other organizations, had to scramble in March to ensure their employees could work from home. But given the nature of the nonprofit’s work, the stakes were much higher if its systems went offline.

“There is no pause button for suicide,” said John Callery, the Trevor Project’s vice president of technology. “We couldn’t afford a minute of downtime.”

He added that calls from distressed youth were “nearly double our pre-COVID volume.”

The challenges of a mental health crisis

Although the U.S. is experiencing a mental health crisis, some experts say, not everyone who needs help is seeking it. Becky Stoll, vice president for crisis and disaster management at nonprofit Centerstone, said that calls to her crisis center were relatively flat versus the previous year. “People tend to rally” during disasters, she said, by focusing on merely “surviving” the catastrophe: “It’s almost like mental health issues are put to the back burner.” 

Travis Atkinson, a behavioral health crisis systems expert and consultant for health care firm TBD Solutions, added that for some people, COVID-19 and shelter-in-place rules actually had a positive impact on their mental health. “For some people who are chronically suicidal and who struggle with depression, having family and support around because of mandated stay-at-home orders is actually helping them,” he said.

But for children and young people living with abusive families, shelter-in-place rules have made their already difficult lives more distressing. Jonathan Goldfinger, CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, said his nonprofit started testing a new service in August that lets people contact his organization via text messages instead of phone calls. Many children, worried that their parents may overhear them talking about their problems to counselors, have used the texting service.

For example, Goldfinger said an 11-year-old texted the firm about ingesting a bottle of her mom’s prescription drugs out of despair. A few weeks later, a 14-year-old texted the center saying that she was holding a loaded gun and that she was “distraught over her parent’s failing marriage.” In both cases, the center was able to counsel the children over text message and dispatched emergency personnel.

Goldfinger said his nonprofit expects that child abuse has increased during the pandemic in many households. But because many children aren’t going to school or seeing pediatricians in person, teachers and doctors aren’t able to see the warning signs. 

At the Trevor Project, Dole said that many children are texting the organization as well because of similar reasons. Last year, a 5-year-old texted the crisis hotline, Dole said, declining to discuss the case.

“Five-year-olds are suicidal sometimes,” Dole said. 

How A.I. can help crisis centers

This year, some centers like the Trevor Project and the Crisis Text Line have started using A.I. to keep up with the influx of emergency texts and calls. They have found machine learning to be a good tool for triaging cases, by analyzing the words in a chat to determine who is more likely to harm themselves.

“One of the models allows us to assess who is at the highest risk of suicide so that those folks get at the top of the queue,” Dole said.

Lili Torok, a Crisis Text Line senior data researcher, said that her firm’s machine-learning software tries to deduce when a person is at “imminent risk,” meaning they have expressed “suicidal threats.” In such cases, counselors are flagged to review the texts so that they can take quick action, including contacting a health care firm that can quickly dispatch an ambulance, Torok said.

Despite advances in A.I., however, all of the crisis centers Fortune talked to said that A.I. is no replacement for human counselors. The technology is useful for preliminary screenings and triaging, but it’s no substitute for professionals who are trained to develop a rapport and counsel those in distress.

As Goldfinger said, if a child on a crisis call says, “Oh, I’m fine,” a human counselor may recognize a change in the child’s voice, indicating something is wrong. A.I. is not capable of noticing nuances yet, he believes.

Goldfinger noted that some vendors, which he declined to name, are pitching their A.I. services for the mental health industry as more capable than they actually are.

Said Goldfinger: “When you get underneath the hood and you ask, How many lives have you saved? What is the actual risk reduction? Stuff like that is not necessarily being calculated in what I would say is the most responsible and equitable manner.”

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Coinbase’s near-term outlook is ‘still grim’, JPMorgan says, while BofA is more positive about firm’s ability to face crypto winter



Coinbase's near-term outlook is 'still grim', JPMorgan says, while BofA is more positive about firm's ability to face crypto winter

Coinbase is well positioned to successfully navigate this crypto winter and take market share, Bank of America said in a research report Tuesday. It maintained its buy recommendation following the exchange’s second-quarter results.

The results warrant “a muted stock reaction,” the report said. Net revenue of $803 million was below the bank’s and consensus estimates, while its adjusted $151 million loss before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization was better than the street expected. Importantly, the company remains “cautiously optimistic” it can reach its goal of no more than $500 million of adjusted EBITDA loss for the full year, the report added.

Coinbase shares fell almost 8% in premarket trading to $80.74.

Bank of America notes that Coinbase had no counterparty exposure to the crypto insolvencies witnessed in the second quarter. The company also has a “history of no credit losses from financing activities, holds customer assets 1:1, and any lending activity of customer crypto is at the discretion of the customer, with 100%+ collateral required.” These rigorous risk-management practices will be a “positive long-term differentiator” for the stock, the bank said.

JPMorgan said Coinbase had endured another challenging quarter, while noting some positives.

Trading volume and revenue were down materially. Subscription revenue was also lower, but would have been much worse were it not for higher interest rates, it said in a research report Wednesday.

The company is taking steps on expense management, and in addition to the June headcount reductions, is scaling back marketing and pausing some product investments, the note said.

The bank says the company’s near-term outlook is “still grim,” noting that the exchange expects a continued decline in 3Q 2022 monthly transacting users (MTUs) and trading volumes, but says Coinbase could take more “cost actions” if crypto prices fall further.

JPMorgan is less optimistic than Bank of America about the company in the near term, saying pressure on revenue from falling crypto markets will have a negative impact on the stock price. Still, it sees positives including higher interest rates, from which the firm will generate revenue. It also sees opportunities for the exchange to grow its user base, leveraging almost $6 billion of cash. The surge in crypto prices in July, and the forthcoming Ethereum Merge are also seen as positive catalysts, it added.

The bank maintained its neutral rating on the stock and raised its price target to $64 from $61.

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Elon Musk sold $6.9B in Tesla stock in case he’s forced to buy Twitter



Elon Musk sold $6.9B in Tesla stock in case he's forced to buy Twitter

Elon Musk sold $6.9 billion of his shares in Tesla Inc., the billionaire’s biggest sale on record, saying he needed cash in case he is forced to go ahead with his aborted deal to buy Twitter Inc.

“In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close *and* some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk tweeted late Tuesday after the sales were disclosed in a series of regulatory filings. 

Asked by followers if he was done selling and would buy Tesla stock again if the $44 billion deal doesn’t close, Musk responded: “Yes.”

Tesla’s chief executive officer offloaded about 7.92 million shares on Aug. 5, according to the new filings. The sale comes just four months after the world’s richest person said he had no further plans to sell Tesla shares after disposing of $8.5 billion of stock in the wake of his initial offer to buy Twitter.  

Musk last month said he was terminating the agreement to buy the social network where he has more than 102 million followers and take it private, claiming the company has made “misleading representations” over the number of spam bots on the service. Twitter has since sued to force Musk to consummate the deal, and a trial in the Delaware Chancery Court has been set for October. 

In May, Musk dropped plans to partially fund the purchase with a margin loan tied to his Tesla stake and increased the size of the equity component of the deal to $33.5 billion. He had previously announced that he secured $7.1 billion of equity commitments from investors including billionaire Larry Ellison, Sequoia Capital, and Binance. 

“I’ll put the odds at 75% that he’s buying Twitter. I’m shocked,” said Gene Munster, a former technology analyst who’s now a managing partner at venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. “This is going to be a headwind for Tesla in the near term. In the long term, all that matters is deliveries and gross margin.”

At the weekend, Musk tweeted that if Twitter provided its method of sampling accounts to determine the number of bots and how they are confirmed to be real, “the deal should proceed on original terms.” 

Musk, 51, has now sold around $32 billion worth of stock in Tesla over the past 10 months. The disposals started in November after Musk, a prolific Twitter user, polled users of the platform on whether he should trim his stake. The purpose of the latest sales wasn’t immediately clear.  

Tesla shares have risen about 35% from recent lows reached in May, though are still down about 20% this year. 

With a $250.2 billion fortune, Musk is the world’s richest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but his wealth has fallen around $20 billion this year as Tesla shares declined.    

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The rent is too d*mn high for Gen Z: Younger generations are ‘squeezed the most’ by higher rents, BofA says



The rent is too d*mn high for Gen Z: Younger generations are 'squeezed the most' by higher rents, BofA says

Most of Gen Z is too young to remember the 2010 New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan.

But over a decade later, they would probably agree with his signature issue (and catchphrase): the rent is too damn high.

This July, median rent payments were 7.4% higher than during the same period last year, according to a Bank of America report released Tuesday. 

The national median price for a one-bedroom apartment has been hitting new highs nearly every month this summer. It was $1,450 for July, according to rental platform Zumper. In the country’s largest city, New York, average rent exceeded a shocking $5,000 a month for the first time ever in June. 

But inflation in the rental market hasn’t hit each generation equally, and no one is getting squeezed harder by the higher monthly payments as Gen Z. Those born after 1996 have seen their median rent payment go up 16% since last July, compared to just a 3% increase for Baby Boomers, BofA internal data shows. 
“Younger consumers are getting squeezed the most by higher rent inflation,” BofA wrote.

The great rent comeback

Early in the pandemic, landlords slashed rents and gave significant COVID discounts to entice tenants to stay instead of leaving urban areas. Once those deals started expiring in 2021, many landlords suddenly raised payments once again, sometimes asking for over double their pandemic value. 

Young people across the board have been hit hard, and rent burdens compared to age can be seen even within a single generation. Younger millennials had their median rent payment grow 11% from last year, while the median payment for older millennials rose 7%. Gen X experienced a 5% median rent increase, according to BofA. 

It’s not a surprise, then, that Gen Z feels so strapped for cash. The majority of young people, 61%, said they want to receive their wages daily instead of twice a week, a practice typically reserved for workers living paycheck to paycheck, according to a report from the Center for Generational Kinetics, which specializes in research across the generations. Rising rent inflation has even priced nearly a third of Gen Zers out of the apartment search altogether. Around 29% of them have resorted to living at home as a “long-term housing solution,” according to a June survey from personal finance company Credit Karma.

It’s no wonder—the rent really is too high.

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