Suicide Hotline Counselors on How They Effort to Save Lives
New Top Demographic for Suicide
Teen suicide has drawn a lot of attention, but currently it’s career and middle aged individuals who take their own lives at the highest rate. Those who are forty-five to sixty-four years old. And a thousand Missourians are lost every year to suicide.
That’s too many according the Ozark Center which operates the crisis line.
But connecting with a counselor can help.
Stephen McCullough coordinator of the Ozark Center emergency room enhancement program remembers a call he took to the crisis line.
“I had one, he was out in a field on a cell phone. He had a gun in his hand,” Stephen said, “That was probably the most stressful call I’ve taken.”
For this crisis counselor and others working the hotline certain calls prompt action. Two work the 24 hour hotline at any given time and when someone suicidal calls they’ll hand off a note to call 911 and engage police.
Crisis counselor Jenna Myers explained, “Right then, it’s immediately safety. It’s finding out what we can do in that moment.”
Other times Jenna, who is a mobile crisis counselor, hits the road to bring help directly to the person in need.
She said that can offer more information than what is available over the phone. Jenna said, “Eyes and ears being able to do a full assessment, face to face, is a very thorough option for us.”
We asked, “What is something you say to them first?” She answered, “I think just letting them know they’re not alone.”
On the line, crisis counselor Pam Kenney urges a caller threatening self-harm, “I want you to be safe until we can get Jenna there.”
Calling crisis is a lifeline for Lisa Humphrey, who’s being treated for mental illness. She keeps the hotline number on her refrigerator and uses it. She said she calls, “When I’m thinking about hurting myself or I just have this problem going on and its really upsetting me, really bad, I’m crying about it and don’t have anyone to talk to, I call crisis. It’s just just a relief that someone’s there for us.”
While Lisa shares her story, many others embrace the hotline’s anonymity. McCullough said, “Anonymity is a big things. It’s a safety for them. They can divulge information without having that fear that, that somebody’s going to find out who they are, tell their parents. They can be blunt. They can be honest.”
Some who are uncomfortable talking, use TxtAboutit. Click here for link. A program that simply utilizes someone’s phone. It was developed initially for youth but all use it now. Those in need send crisis line counselors text messages. It’s a service that’s growing. There were more than eighteen hundred text conversations in 2017. And especially helpful for those who make contact from a work environment.
McCullough said they can be surrounded by coworkers. He said, “They want to have a little bit more confidentiality but still are wrapped up in that crisis and are still needing assistance at that time.”
The director of crisis services, Debbie Fitzgerald added, “It’s a hard decision to make to bear all of your deepest darkest thoughts that are happening with someone you don’t know. So, part of our job is to make them feel comfortable, that they can share with us.”
Patient Lisa Humphrey said the calls work to do that. She explained, ”For one they listen to you. You know they listen to what you have to say. They give you some like options like maybe some coping skills.”
Lisa encourages others to make the call but Fitzgerald said
seeking emotional help still can carry a stigma even though the brain is an organ that simply gets sick. Ninety percent of those who die by suicide actually had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
Hotline counselors can help people start to heal. McCullough explained when taking calls its about listening and catching clues to help diffuse any danger.
Stephen said of his caller with the gun, “It ended up, I could hear the gun. Every time I heard the metal, my heart was just jumping up in to my throat. It was one where I had to maybe go decompress a little bit afterwards. But it was good. It was good he knew somebody cared enough to stay on the phone. I cared enough to call the police.”
Someone dies every twelve minutes in America to suicide.
Every twenty-nine seconds someone attempts suicide..
Oklahoma ranks 7th , Missouri 17th and Kansas 20th in the nation for suicide.
For every woman who dies by suicide, there are four men who die by suicide. And women are three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Rapper’s Song Calls Attention to Hotline
The Ozark Center crisis line counselors have made t hree thousand contacts just from June through September of 2017.
Some were ready to take their own lives.
The need for the suicide hotline inspired a popular song that asks can you relate?
“I don’t wanna be alive, I don’t wanna be alive, I just wanna die today.”
Rapper Logic quotes his own song, which simulates a call to the suicide hotline, in a segment produced by Genius.com. He said, it seemed a morbid topic, but his song 1-800, the suicide hotline number was a response to fans saying his other song lyrics had saved their lives.
He explained, “Then it hit me! The power I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life, what would happen if i actually did?”
The song has prompted a surge in those calling the national suicide hotline. In Joplin hotline calls go to the Freeman Ozark center crisis line which has its own 1-800 number: 1-800-247-0661 where crisis counselors like Pam Kenney take calls for help.
“What’s going on with you today?” calmly questions Kenney, hoping to get at the root of the caller’s problem. Kenney said they need to find out, “Is this person, are they in a real crisis? Which means are they suicidal? Are they homicidal? Are they hallucinating? And then we have to triage and see does this person need to be seen? Do they just need somebody to talk to? Do they just need to vent?”
Triage because the crisis line is considered the emergency room of mental health where they assess suicidal risks.
Debbie Fitzgerald, the director of crisis services said key for counselors is, “Listening, asking questions, and building a rapport because people are not normally going to blurt out what is really troubling them until they feel like it’s safe. I kind of refer to it as tiptoeing into the deep end. Sometimes it just has to unfold. You have to be patient.”
Pam Kenney related a story of a call for a support group. She delved deeper. “We had a gentlemen call and say he just needed counseling,” she explained, “Well come to find out, he had tried to hang himself the night before.”
A verse in Logic’s song says,
“And my life don’t even matter,
I know it, I know it
I know I’m hurting deep down and can’t show it.”
Logic said, “For me this line is something that really allows the listener to feel connected cause this, this is their outlet. The song is the outlet. I”m hurting deep down but can’t show it, but Logic can help me show it.”
Understanding a callers pain is like an investigation. Kenney said, “We never know, when we answer the phone: if that person is suicidal with a plan, if they are sitting there with a gun a knife, or overdosing whatever. We don’t know what the last straw is. For some people it can be burnt meatloaf so we don’t ever want to rush to judgment.
In the song Logic asks can you relate? And oftentimes hotline counselors can said Kenney, “I get emotional with that person. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We all have had experiences where we relate to what’s going on with that person and I think it helps us have more compassion and empathy for that person.”
Counselors listen, give advice, go through interventions and stay on the line until they’ve found the right kind of help.
Logic also hopes some find help through his song.
Which he said wasn’t a simple thing to write unlike some of his others where a verse might take five minutes.
“This wasn’t like that,” said Logic, “I have to take my time, have to be patient, cause again this song could potentially save people’s lives.”
Logic’s song includes a response by a hotline counselor to the caller who by the end of the song has changed his/her mind.
“I finally wanna be alive,
I finally wanna be alive,
I don’t wanna die today,
I don’t wanna die.”
Crisis counselors can sometimes talk someone through their issue but often work to make sure the caller is seen by therapist or other mental health professional or support group. No matter what, they urged people, don’t go it alone and to call the crisis line.
In Joplin the Ozark center Crisis intervention line is 1-800- 247-0661.
The national suicide hotline number and the name of Logic’s song is