Crisis hot lines

Be very careful what you share with a crisis hot line counselor. I called because I needed to vent and have no one I could trust or burden with my problem. I was upset but never said I wanted to harm myself or anyone else. In a few minutes two police officers were walking into my bedroom. I called the supervisor to file a complaint. When I filed a complaint against the counselor he asked me if I wanted to do myself any harm. I said “No but even if I did I wouldn’t tell you that because you would use it against me.” When I saw my psychiatrist for a routine med check he told me that the hotline contacted him and said I tried to commit suicide. I said I did not and explained what happened. I don’t think he believed me and continued to type information about me in his computer. I will never call a crisis line again.:mad:

Honestly, I never understood what they were even for. Who calls these places and why?

The OP just answered at least half of your question.

If you want to vent to someone while the cops are dispatched? Is that really what these hotlines are designed for and advertised as providing?

I was a Crisis Intervention Counselor for a few years back in the 80s, and the only times we’d get a third party involved was if you were in any imminent danger, either from yourself or someone else . . . or possibly if you were an under-18 runaway. If - and only if - what you’re describing is accurate, they clearly overreacted.

I’m curious to know how the call ended, assuming that it ended before the police officers showed up. Oh, and how old are you, and did you tell the counselor your age?

Sounds like people who call Crisis Hot Lines should consider blocking their Caller ID.

You could have said something that the counselor thought sounded like you might do yourself harm. I’m sure they are taught it is better to call the police when in doubt. You could have accidentally said a phrase that is on their list of things to watch out for. For example, you could have said something like “this is just not worth it”, meaning your job or family and she took it to mean you were saying it about your life.

My friend took turns on a crisis hotline. She is not a therapist or psychologist, she is just a caring volunteer who went through some training. It would be impossible for them to judge every situation correctly from one phone call.

Sorry to hear this happened to you. It’s frustrating when you just want to vent and people misunderstand that to mean something else. In the future perhaps you can remember to preface any comments of distress to whomever you make them by clarifying your purpose.

It’s not clear how long you have been dealing with the wonderful world of psychiatry but it’s important for you to know that most people in the business are there to help you not to “use (your problems) against” you. A visit to a crisis center or hospital is not supposed to be punishment.

When mental health workers and others lose someone to suicide because they didn’t take a person’s frustration seriously enough it’s a devastating thing.

Next you see your psychiatrist all of this would be a good thing to discuss. And ask him for a reference to a support group, please. No one should have to struggle along alone with no one to talk to. And it’s not good for you. :slight_smile:

Well ain’t you a babe in the woods.

Some people call them when they need someone to talk them off the ledge.

I once knew someone (borderline PD) who would call them when she was feeling really depressed and lonely. She called so regularly that all the counselors knew her by name and were like her friends. I’m sure her real life friends and family were appreciative of them, too.

I can’t imagine the amount of kindness and compassion a person must have to volunteer to be a crisis hotline counselor.

I’m sorry to hear that this happened. Unless you left out some key information (perhaps the tone in your voice or other cues that might have worried the counselor), it doesn’t make sense that they would call the police if, as you said, you never said you wanted to harm yourself or anyone else. Different agencies have different policies, but it doesn’t seem right that they would call the cops for a standard “I need to talk to someone” kind of call. That’s one way to guarantee that you will never call back, even if you really need to do so.

Keep in mind that there are thousands of different people who do this work. They come from all ages and all backgrounds, but it is my opinion that in most cases they do the work because of some compelling life experience of their own: perhaps they suffered from abuse at some time; maybe they had an alcohol problem; maybe they considered suicide themselves. In my case, I lost my brother to suicide at 23, and I wanted to do whatever I could to help other people to give life another chance. I believe that most volunteers sincerely want to help and want you to feel better. Otherwise, why would they volunteer their time for this?

In my experience, (not necessarily that of others), 98% of the calls were the regulars, folks who need the crisis line as part of their day to day lives. We knew them all well and would chat about their problems when they called, kind of like when you lend an ear to a friend who is feeling down. It was usually a lot of “poor me” talk, with occasional folks who had serious problems and would go on about things that exist only in their world.

It was that last 2% of folks that kept me doing the work—the people who called for the first time, because they were in a very difficult moment in their lives and they needed someone to talk to. Once in a very rare while I would go on shift and someone would say “You spoke with a girl named Kristen three days ago? She called to let you know she’s OK and to say thanks.” That was extremely rare. But even without such a followup call we could tell by the tone of the call whether we had made a difference in the person’s life. That might happen once in three or four shifts, but it was why I kept going: to make a difference.

I rarely called the police, and in almost all cases I would ask permission from the caller. Most of the time this would be as a result of them saying certain key words that made me think they were in imminent danger. We would go through a suicide checklist, discreetly asking about their method, whether they had attempted suicide before, whether they had made any detailed plans or not (e.g. did they leave their dog with a friend, and so on).

In thousands of calls, I probably called the police 5 or 10 times. Of those, I think only one or two calls was without the caller’s consent. I don’t remember the circumstances, but you can imagine that if someone calls a crisis line and starts talking about suicide, saying they have a gun in their hand, and is rambling and acting very off balance, the volunteer is probably going to call the police: we want people to live.

An example of the kind of call where I did involve police: One evening I spoke with a woman two or three times, and she was talking about the pills she had, but her tone was changing with each call. On the third call she sounded sleepy and told me she had taken them but sounded like she regretted it.
I asked her for her address and asked her if I could send help. She gave me the information. With her on the line, I called the police on a second phone and gave them her details. I waited with her until they arrived. By that time she sounded very sleepy and sluggish.

I called the police a little while later and asked about her; in a surprising bit of kindness from a cop, the dispatcher told me she was doing fine, was en route to the hospital and offered to patch me in to the ambulance so I could speak with her; I didn’t do so, but that was thoughtful.

Minor7flat5, thank you for your post. Your experiences are very similar to mine, including your motivation to became a counselor.

What the OP needs to realize is that a counselor doesn’t just call the police, based on a brief innuendo by a caller. The counselor has been trained to explore the caller’s feelings, history, circumstances, actions and intentions. By then it should be obvious whether the caller is in any imminent danger . . . of course erring on the side of caution.

Since I can’t tell if you are being facetious or not, I’ll assume this is an honest question.

For the most part, people who called our hotline got the number from a social worker of some type or another. They would say that their therapist gave them the number, or their psychiatrist, or someone at the women’s shelter. We were the 24x7 backup that folks could call when their 9-5 professional wasn’t available.

In addition, our numbers were posted at places where folks might be considering ending their life, such as train stations and bridges.

Most people called to vent. Even the ones who were suicidal just needed someone who would listen to them; so many people don’t have a close friend to confide in, don’t even have family, or don’t have the courage to speak with anyone face to face about their problems.

FYI, as panache45 said, volunteers undergo a significant amount of training, with lectures from many different social agencies as well as plenty of roleplaying.
In my case the training was similar to attending a 3 credit course at the local community college: a few hours a week for a few months.
The training also covers the policies and procedures of the agency in detail. Unfortunately, the training and policies and procedures don’t really tell you how to handle many situations; you have general guidance, but often you have to use your best judgment as the tone of the conversation changes.

**Here’s a random sampling of the type of calls (from many years ago, with details intentionally obscured or made up, but the gist is the same). **
As you read these, think about how you would speak with someone in each situation, about how you would react.

A late-forties woman who is suffering with depression and is planning on taking her life when her husband goes fishing this Saturday morning.

A seventeen year old girl who is calling because her best friend is suffering depression and is talking about suicide, and by the way, her friend’s mom has no clue her little princess is doing heroin.

A late-fifties man who is angry at the world because of the way he has been treated all his life as a homosexual.

A late-fifties woman who is frustrated because everyone else has a perfect life and she never found the right one. She had a dream but it never happened.

A 14yo boy who is being teased in school and nobody cares about how he feels. His parents don’t talk to him and don’t even know he is having trouble.

A 30-something man who is sitting in his car on the side of the highway calling on his cell phone after leaving his wife in a huff after a big blowup. Not sure if he should drive to his brother’s house or turn around and go home. And by the way, a state trooper just stopped by to see what is going on.

A woman whose friend just lost her teenage son to suicide three days ago. She is going to the funeral tomorrow.

A twenty-something girl who went to a hotel with a guy who she met online and he had sex with her but she regrets it and thinks she maybe was raped. In your mind you think “What were you thinking was going to happen in a hotel room alone with him?” but your job is to be nonjudgmental, so you listen.

A fiftyish man who just wants to talk politics for awhile. He’s a little bit to the right of your political taste, but fun to listen to.

A young mother who can never forget her husband’s death and how her child found his body in the bedroom.

An elderly woman who has nobody in her life. She has a dog who she loves, but she has nobody who can help her to buy food or anything else. And you wish you could go to the store to buy groceries for her, but that would violate policy.

A woman in her forties who is having problems with people at the office. They are talking behind her back. She thinks she is going to be fired on Monday.

14 yo girl whose dad just found out she is having sex and blew up. She has attempted suicide before and gone through counseling. Mom doesn’t like it because she can’t listen in on the therapy sessions. Dad doesn’t care.

30ish woman who has a male friend who she has known all her life. He is doing heroin again. She helps him stop, but every time he does, it doesn’t last. He and his girlfriend had their daughter taken away from them.

Whenever I was annoyed at something in my life, I just had to remember some of these kinds of situations to realize that my own problems just weren’t that bad at all. It gave me perspective.

Though I’m not affiliated with the crisis hotline in our hometown, I did, through circumstances I won’t go into, have an opportunity to learn something about its operation — including going to their location, which is a very closely guarded secret (they’re in a nondescript building with no indication of what goes on there).

I can tell you that those who staff it, while they’re not degreed professionals, do undergo some very intense and explicit training that involves a significant commitment of time. So the people working this job have to really want to do it. And I’m guessing that the keys to the store aren’t handed over to just anyone.

The crisis hotline is also heavily connected to all manner of caregiving entities in town. While they do fulfill the traditional role of just talking to people, they also refer them to specific help they may need.

I understand the OP’s upset, but none of us can fairly evaluate her situation from this distance without hearing both sides of the exact conversation that took place. And that can never happen.

I don’t understand the need for secrecy. The hotline I volunteered at also accepted walk-ins, though they were only a fraction of the number of phone calls. Occasionally an entire family came in. We also had gay peer counselors, like me, because some people who are struggling with their sexual identity felt more comfortable talking to another gay person. This was in addition to my general hotline responsibilities.

Dr. Frood says he thinks you’re suffering from paranoid delusions. :stuck_out_tongue:

People who are teetering on the edge. People who are experiencing emotional urges to cross that line but are cognitively aware that they shouldn’t, and are looking for a good reason not to.

I’ve been there.

I had been through transitions before - high school to undergrad, undergrad to grad school - but at the age of 28 I finished grad school, and with a PhD diploma in my pocket I ended my lengthy career as a full-time student, moved to a new city and began my career as a professional. In doing so I had left behind a number of friendships formed during one of the most intense periods in my life and moved away from a city I had grown to love, to a city where I didn’t know anybody or anything, and my new job required dressing like an adult instead of a student. My apartment was pretty much empty; my furniture wasn’t going to arrive for a few more days, so all I had was some blankets and a pillow, my toolbox, and a few changes of clothes.

The first day on the job, the morning was pretty much just orientation. Lunch? I rushed out to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger and a cup of coffee. Afternoon? I was dropped into a meeting that lasted without interruption until 6:30. Interminable meetings like this were a nightmare feature of my time in grad school, and here it looked like they were going to be a big feature of my professional career as well. Half way through that meeting I decided that I was in Hell and I wanted out. During my later years in grad school I had occasionally thought of suicide, but it was more like daydreaming. Sitting there in that meeting, I had switched over into planning how to actually do it when I got home after work (“let’s see, toolbox at home has utility knife, hope it doesn’t hurt too much…”). Suddenly I caught myself and realized hey, it’s not supposed to be like this - you need some help. During the morning’s orientation activities I remembered spotting a sign on a bulletin board for the Employee Assistance Program, and I resolved to call them up when I got home.

Somehow against all odds I managed to maintain my composure for the remaining hours of the meeting; it was after 7 that night when I got home, locked the door, and dropped in a heap on my pile of blankets and sheets, drooling on the floor because I was crying so hard. Eventually I settled down enough to call the EAP. As they took down my personal info, they asked me how long I had been working for the government.

“One day,” I said with a wavering voice. :smiley:

As I spoke to the counselor and laid it all out, at one point he finally asked me if I had thought about hurting myself. I admitted that I had thought about it that day, but told him that I thought I was past that; the entire reason I was calling was because I knew that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. In the end I got referred to a local counselor for a couple of sessions later that week, and eventually started seeing a therapist and taking an antidepressant for a few years.

If that EAP hotline hadn’t been there - if I hadn’t seen that sign and phone number on the bulletin board - I’m not sure what the outcome would have been. It’s possible I might have had the wherewithal to call 911 and ask for help, but when you’re embarrassed about feeling so down and out, 911 seems like a much bigger mental hurdle, more likely to result in unwanted police attention - not a good way to make a first impression on new neighbors. I have no doubt that if the EAP counselor had had reason to believe I might hurt myself in the near future, he would have pushed the panic button and summoned the police. And I wouldn’t have held it against him; his job is to talk people away from the ledge as best he can, and use the long arm of the law when he feels that talk isn’t working and it’s necessary to forcibly pull people away from the ledge.

TL,DR; I know from personal experience that crisis hotlines are a good thing.

In the OP’s case, something she said gave the counselor reason to believe that there was a strong possibility of self-harm in the near future. As embarrassing as police attention may be, they were summoned, not to punish, but to physically intervene and assure that such a disastrous thing would not come to pass. They were there to help, not hurt, and their actions ought not be held against the counselor or anyone else.

Cynical bastard that I am, I’m going to ask the following question:

What are hotline staff trained to do when you call them repeatedly for an idle chat?

Certainly agency policies must differ greatly, but…

We had plenty of latitude in the calls we would take. There were guidelines about how long one could be on the phone with a person, but there was no hard limit: sometimes I would spend an hour and a half with a person, but most calls were <15min. Some abusive callers would be blacklisted or would be limited to one call per day or whatever.

We spent a lot of time sitting around in a quiet room surfing the 'Net or watching TV, so any call was usually welcome (especially if the caller is not a one-trick pony bringing up their single issue for the five hundredth time).
Even if it was just idle chat, think about how a simple friendly conversation like that might help someone who feels that they don’t have a friend in the world.

The greatest annoyance faced is not repeat callers; it is probably sex callers. Being a guy, I rarely got those (though I did occasionally hear from men who wanted to talk inappropriately with me). The women who did this work got them quite frequently and we had specific training and even role playing (nothing inappropriate) on how to handle those calls.

What do these services gain from taking calls and turning callers over to the police? Or whatever it is you think they do.

Are they just massive phising centers for getting the phone numbers of depressed people so drug reps can call them later and get them to Talk To Your Doctor About Happyex?