Many of us with mental illness have time in our lives when we feel utterly alone, confused and in the dark depths of our illness. We want to cry our for help, but at the same time we don’t want anyone to know how bad we are really feeling.
Have you been there? I know I have many times.
If you have never called a crisis line, I want to share with you what it’s like – from our side and from the side of the person or agency you are talking with.
I have had several times in my life that I have called the Crisis Hotline. For me, I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). There are many crisis lines in this country that are for set up for a variety of topics. At the time of my first call, I didn’t know who to call so the Lifeline was my choice. I remember it was very late at night, my kids were at their father’s house and I was alone in my despair. I was terrified to call because I thought that they would immediately send someone to my house and take me away. I finally felt brave enough (or desperate enough) to make the call. I was on hold for what was only 10 or 15 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. A calm woman’s voice came on the line and just started “talking me down.” I know I was very wound up and talking 100 miles per hour, but I held on to her voice. I don’t recall what all we talked about. I do know that I took my phone outside as we continued our conversation (a very useful tool when you are in such distress is to go outside, feel that fresh air, if only for a moment). We talked for maybe a half an hour and she and I together made a plan for me to go to sleep and contact my therapist the next day. The woman on the other end of phone truly was my lifeline and guide that night and I was so grateful.
Of the handful of times that I called in over the years, they were all very positive experiences except for one. On one occasion the woman I was talking to did not jive with what I needed. I remember getting angry with her. I don’t know what it was; was she judging me? Most likely I was judging myself and I projected those feelings on to her. I still feel bad about it all these years laters, but I know that the responders are trained to handle many different situations.
And speaking of that I want to share with you what happens on the responders side when a call comes in. About 4 years ago I decided I wanted to try and volunteer at the call center in my area. I wanted to make a difference and help others like I had been helped. What an absolutely amazing experience. I had over 80 hours of training before I took my first call. I would work a 4 hour shift along with a few others. Our call room was small, about 6 lines, and the center is considered a hub for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (there are several hub cities throughout the country where calls are cycled to). Those first calls I took were a bit scary, but once I got going, I really thought I excelled at working call line, interacting with people in distress and bringing them to a better mental place. I had calls from people who were actively suicidal, to women who were in situations of abuse, to those in crisis of depression, panic or similar. And then you get the oddball calls like someone trying to do their homework and needing information and those who have oversexual tendencies and want to “talk” to the responder. Very interesting to say the least. I would have like to have volunteered longer, but for me, the drive was an hour each way and with 4 kids and a full time job, I just couldn’t make it work. I hope someday I am able to volunteer again
So what happens when you call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)? First off there is a short recording that encourages veterans to “push 2” so they can be connected with specially trained veteran responders. Otherwise, you are on a brief hold and your call is going to get cycled to wherever in the country there is the first open line. So most likely, whomever you are talking to will not live anywhere close to you. I had calls from all over the country. The responder has a computer that they are inputting any data they may collect from you (name, sex, diagnoses, immediate issues, etc). This is done partly for data collection reasons (which that data helps in grant applications later as these lines are non-profit), but it is also helpful if a person calls again someday, the responder can bring up some useful information.
The responder has been trained for all types of situations. If a caller is actively suicidal there is an exact protocol that gets followed. If there is some type of active abuse or crime happening, the responder is able to be in contact with local authorities. Most of the time the responder is there to listen, to offer support, to guide the caller into determining how best they can provide self care, reach out for support, search for resources. If the responder and caller can talk about resources in the callers area, it is very helpful. The responders use 211.org to locate local resources.
Again, the responder is there to listen – to YOU! It is not a thing to fear and you only tell the responder whatever you want to tell them. They are not going to force name, address, phone number or anything of the sort from you. This call is your SAFETY NET. And you don’t have to feel actively suicidal to call. Some states and cities have a general crisis number you can call.
I urge anyone who is feeling any type of mental distress to call. I know it may be scary at first, but you will find that the person on the other end of the line wants to help you, wants to offer comfort, guidance and resources. I am so grateful that these crisis lines exist. And for all of the volunteers out there that work on the lines, I thank you.
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