Suicide Hotline Manager
I supervise and train telephone operators for a suicide hotline. In addition to answering phones myself, I am also available when questions about protocol come up or if a phone operator is having trouble dealing with the emotions being expressed by a caller. Like many non-profits, we are now in danger of being shut down because of budget cuts.
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Different hotlines have different purposes. Some will directly connect a caller with a therapist or have someone go to their home. Other hotlines are strictly there for directive-free emotional support in the moment and will invite the caller to call back again whenever they feel the need to do so. You can do some research online before choosing which hotline to contact. It can be frustrating to be seeking a comforting ear and have someone instead giving you a referral, and vice versa.
From what we have noticed at our hotline, volume does not increase, but people do talk about it. It seems that hearing about suicide does not suddenly get people thinking about suicide for the first time. It does give them a focus, though, for what they have been going through and it can be a great starting point for a seemingly impossible conversation to have. The same goes for natural disasters and other high profile tragedies. Callers don't for the first time realize that the world is a difficult and overwhelming place for them. It gives them a concrete place to begin an overwhelming train of thought.
As far as I know, this has never happened in the years I have been with the hotline. There are times when a caller hangs up and you feel like they are in serious danger, that nothing you have said has gotten through and that really they just wanted to hear one last voice. We have, however, then heard from many of those callers again, which is of course always reassuring. One of the toughest things is that when the call ends you don’t know what really happens.
We try to foster open communication on the lines and behind the scenes. There is lot of chatting with operators when they come on shift and serious discussion if something distracting is going on in their lives. We respect our operators and would not tell someone they had to go home early if they felt capable of handling their emotions, but we are vigilant in ensuring our callers receive the best service and will check in regularly throughout the shift to make sure they are not taking on more than they can handle.
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I can't go into any specifics because of confidentially. The people with the reasons that would sound the most ridiculous were the people who were the most severely ill. A small slight or disappointment can appear to a schizophrenic or person with a personality disorder as a really traumatic event. When you hear how upset someone is about something that you, as a stranger, can guess happened very differently or didn't happen at all, it's honestly just really sad that this person suffers from such intense delusions that cause him or her so much pain.
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