The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launched on January 1, 2005, and in its first year of operation answered a little over 46,000 calls. In 2017, it answered over 2 million.
The Lifeline has significantly increased its call volume, but it says there are still people in crisis it doesn’t reach. Some people having suicidal thoughts are afraid to call, worried doing so may compromise their privacy or their autonomy.
USA TODAY spoke with the Lifeline’s director John Draper and communications director Frances Gonzalez about what happens when a person calls 800-273-TALK (8255).
Who calls the Lifeline?
Gonzalez: “Twenty-five to 30 percent of callers have a suicide-related issue. Others call because they are in emotional distress or looking for resources and information.”
What kind of personal information will I be expected to give?
Gonzalez: “Calls are confidential. People can be anonymous if they choose — they can share as much or as little personal information during the call as they like.”
Who’ll pick up?
Draper: “People who are trained to deal with this conversation. They don’t panic. They’re ready to listen and to assess the nature and severity of the problem and help de-escalate.”
What will the conversation be like?
Draper: “Our staff members across the country are trained to listen to what the caller’s reasons for dying are, as well as the reasons for living. If a person says that they are suicidal we want to know how suicidal. We want to know how imminent the risk is. Are they just thinking about it? Are they really wanting to do it? We know at the most basic level people want their pain to go away. They don’t want their life to go away. We’re willing to listen to those things that are causing them pain so they’re no longer going through it alone. And once they’re not going through it alone then they can collaborate with us. We ask, what are some of the things that have kept you alive until now? We begin to build a safety plan by learning who is important to them and who they might be able to call and talk to in their lives to keep them safe. What we’re doing is building a bridge of support from that crisis moment to the life afterwards.”
Will the Lifeline follow up?
Gonzalez: “The Lifeline is made up of a network of crisis centers across the country. Not every crisis center is able to offer follow-up services, but some do. Follow-ups, when offered to a caller, are optional.”
If I call the Lifeline, is it possible someone will be sent to my home?
Draper: “It’s rare that we ever have to do anything that a person doesn’t want us to do. Of those people … at highest risk, about 75 percent of the time we are actively able to collaborate with them and help them reduce their own risk. We would only do active rescue in those rare circumstances where people call us, say they are going to kill themselves and are not going to collaborate with us in any way. They’re unwilling or unable to save themselves or to work with us to keep them safe yet they call us and we believe that based on what they’re saying that if we don’t do anything they’re going to die.”
Why should I call the Lifeline?
Draper: “Research has shown that by the end of the call the majority of callers feel less emotional distress and less suicidal.”
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