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Are You Ready to Answer the Call? Join the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Today!

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Linda Rosenberg

President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Are You Ready to Answer the Call? Join the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Today!

September 5, 2018 | Suicide and Addiction | Comments
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Someone in this country dies by suicide every 12 minutes. But suicide deaths are not inevitable. For every person who dies by suicide, 278 individuals think seriously about suicide but do not die. During National Recovery Month, we must focus on keeping people alive so they can take their first steps on the road to recovery.

For some, the difference may be connecting with a compassionate, trained crisis center volunteer or staff member who is ready to help them when they need it most. In recognition of the need to provide immediate help to people in crisis, Congress passed and the President signed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act. This law requires several federal agencies to study and report on the feasibility of designating a new three-digit dialing code similar to 911 for mental health crises.

As a suicide prevention advocate, I’m pleased about the bipartisan support this legislation received. Too many people are suffering in silence, and we must make it easy for them to seek help when they are ready to do so. The use of a three-digit number will further reduce barriers to seeking immediate assistance, but it will also require all hands on deck.

In the wake of the high-profile deaths by suicide earlier this year of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, calls to crisis centers skyrocketed. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), which answered 12 million calls between 2005 and 2017, expects to answer another 12 million calls over the next four years. Arizona Lifeline centers Crisis Response Network and La Frontera Empact, both National Council members, saw their calls increase from 2,800 in June 2017 to more than 4,400 calls this past June.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline combines the best of national standards in suicide prevention with local community resources. The Lifeline ensures that centers are accredited, provides training for counselors and disseminates best practices in the field. Calls to the Lifeline are routed to their closest center based on area code, with the aim of connecting callers to counselors in their own state, and better yet, in their own community. Local counselors at crisis centers have access to community resources and can connect callers to local services. In 2017 the Lifeline also served more than 700,000 veterans by seamlessly connecting them to the Veterans Crisis Line which is independently operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 150 centers in nearly every state participate in the Lifeline and it is always looking to expand and welcome new centers.

Yet this is just a fraction of the crisis centers that operate nationally, notes Bart Andrews, Ph.D., vice president of Telehealth and Home/Community Services at National Council member BHR in St. Louis, Mo. Bart and I are members of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Steering Committee, and he co-chairs the Lifeline’s Standards, Training and Practices Committee. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Suicidology and has been involved in crisis center work since he was a newly minted psychologist in 1998. “I started full time work at BHR answering crisis calls evenings and weekends and absolutely fell in love with it,” Bart told me. This is also intensely personal for Bart, who is a suicide attempt survivor.

BHR runs its own crisis line, answers calls for the Lifeline and serves as a Lifeline backup for Alaska. For calls answered at BHR, about 50 percent of Lifeline callers identify as suicidal; the rest are dealing with depression and anxiety, financial and family problems, loneliness or concerns about a loved one.

“Most people who are struggling never make it to the hospital or clinic,” Bart pointed out. “With a crisis line, there is a low barrier to get help. In a 20- to 30-minute phone call, you can have a tremendous impact on someone’s life.”

Lifeline calls that can’t be answered locally roll over to a backup center, which means callers may have to wait longer for their call to be answered, and counselors may have limited access to local resources. About 30 percent of all Lifeline calls are routed to a back-up center. That’s why the Lifeline needs more local centers to join their ranks, and National Council members are uniquely positioned to help. The National Council is proud to be a Lifeline partner.

In addition to providing critically needed services to individuals in your area who are calling the Lifeline, as compared to a local crisis line, there are many benefits to joining the Lifeline’s prestigious network. For example, member centers have access to language interpreters, a multi-tiered backup system, special grant opportunities and subsidized trainings. To participate in the Lifeline, your crisis center must be certified, accredited or licensed by an external body. You must have written policies or guidelines addressing referral, training and suicide risk assessment and be willing to participate in periodic, Lifeline data collection activities. In addition, you must be able to follow up with agencies after initiating emergency rescues. Each center receives an annual stipend for participating. Interested crisis centers can fill out an online application.

Suicide Prevention Is Everyone’s Business

You don’t have to staff a crisis line to help a person in need. You can #BeThe1To to save a life by spreading the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message about actions we can all take to prevent suicide. BeThe1To changes the conversation from suicide to suicide prevention, from actions that prevent death to actions that promote healing and provide hope.

You can also learn how to help a family member, friend or colleague who is struggling by taking a Mental Health First Aid course. Mental Health First Aid offers tools to help start a conversation, listen with compassion to someone who has thoughts of suicide and direct them to professional help. With more than 1.3 million people trained in Mental Health First Aid, we look forward to the day when it is as common as CPR training.

In the end, it’s important to remember that suicide is often about disconnection, isolation and both physical and emotional pain. Thanks to technology, we live in an increasingly interconnected world, yet we are lonelier and more disconnected than ever. The best thing we can do if we are worried about someone attempting suicide is listen with empathy, share that you are concerned, ask them if they are thinking about suicide, temporarily reduce access to lethal means if safe and feasible to do so and then get them help from professionals, family members and friends. Suicide deaths are preventable, and we must start today.

Are you a member of the Lifeline or otherwise involved in suicide prevention? I’d love to hear about your experiences. You can respond to this post or write to me at LindaR@TheNationalCouncil.org. I read every response!

©2018 National Council for Behavioral Health. All Rights Reserved.