How Working at a Suicide Prevention Hotline Changed My Perspective On Mental Health
I’ve always thought of myself as a great listener, but when I started training to take calls for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, I quickly realized I had a lot to learn.
I applied to volunteer for the local crisis center in Texas as a way to beef up my résumé for grad school applications (I want to become a counselor). But to be honest, I didn’t know much about suicide or mental health going into it. After making it through a round of interviews, it was on to the 10-week training portion. I learned what real “active listening” looks like: constantly avoiding making the conversation about yourself and granting the person on the phone control of their own situation instead of trying to tell them what to do. (Related: Olivia Munn Just Posted a Powerful Message About Suicide On Instagram)
I was nervous when it came time to answer my first call, and I still get nervous sometimes. I’ll constantly question myself: Did I really help them? Are they going to be able to follow through with the plan of action we developed? There are some situations I hear about on these calls that admittedly make it difficult to relate to the person on the other end. That’s because I’ve never had to go through what they are describing. Inside I’m thinking “Oh my god; this is so terrible, I don’t even know how I would survive this.” As a counselor, not only do I have to refrain from voicing those thoughts, I have to give them the confidence to get through it. I have to focus on my one very important job: help them decide not to commit suicide. I have to help them find their own alternative solution.
The experience has been a real eye-opener to say the least. Before becoming a volunteer, I didn’t have a grasp on how widespread mental illness is. Before, I had a notion of who I thought suffered from mental illness. They had some kind of childhood trauma, something that happened to them, etc. But we get a lot of calls from people who are just overwhelmed with the stress of daily life. I’ve spoken with people who appear to be successful and happy from the outside, but who are suffering internally from a huge burden or stressor.
That’s why it’s that it’s so important to check in with people you know. Risk the awkward conversation. Ask if they’re okay or if they might find it helpful to talk to someone. (Related: I’m Done Keeping Quiet About Suicide)
I’ve also become more aware of how I treat strangers. For instance, I wouldn’t want to be the driver with road rage who cuts off a mother with postpartum depression and adds one more problem to her day. Conversely, you never know how a small, but kind or patient gesture might positively affect someone. It could change their entire day. It could be the thing that keeps them alive.
What was originally an effort to improve my grad school prospects ended up benefiting me in ways I could never have imagined. After every four-hour shift, I leave the suicide crisis center feeling renewed because I’ve helped someone, even if I personally had a difficult time on the call. It’s given me another purpose in life, and I feel like, overall, it’s helped me become a better human.
I’ve wondered a lot about why the suicide rate is on the rise in the U.S. and what exactly is going on. (Read more on the epidemic here: What Everyone Needs to Know About the Rising U.S. Suicide Rates) There are so many possible variables that could be responsible for the increase, but no matter what, it’s our responsibility to keep up an open dialogue about suicide in public (and in private, if you feel someone needs you).
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text 741741, or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
If you do have a voice to do it, which we are fortunate to have this platform to be I’m just like you. You know what I mean? I can’t sleep. I feel like crap a lot of the time because of this. But I want you to feel okay about it and not feel shame about it and get information about it so that you can have a better quality of life. And the same goes for My battle with cancer. When I first came out about my breast cancer, I really didn’t wanna talk about it, but I had to, because young women were getting it, and people weren’t understanding that. They weren’t understanding that women that were 36 were getting breast cancer, at 28 were getting breast cancer, and they were opting not to have MRIs when they knew they were high risk because Of the cost. My activism came out of this, it wasn’t even about me. It was a whoa, wait. You’re telling me that women are not even opting for this because it’s too expensive? No, no no. It just saved my life. An MRI saved my life. If i had waited for my mammogram I would be dead right now. Wow>>So for me it was a very important thing to start that. And then, you know, talking about all the other things Things I’ve gone through in the last few months. [LAUGH] Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s incredible. Also you’re looking out for other women. I mean, you’re a mom. You have a daughter, Sadie, which we were saying- I talked about my ovaries because you know that was also something very private, but I just found myself, like, yeah, I guess you should know. I took my ovaries and my fallopian tubes out in September. And I’m going through menopause. And let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about what that’s like. Like forty something to be going through that and that you are okay, you are not alone. And with those things, how are you doing now? With- Yeah. I’m good. I mean, I’m in