Ever volunteer for a suicide hotline?

I am thinking of volunteering for a local suicide hotline. Before I can do so, I must go through a series of interviews, then an extensive training program. If I am allowed to volunteer, I am asked to commit to a full year with them.

I was wondering if any other dopers have ever done this. If you have, what was your experience like? How did you handle the stress? Did you ever lose someone? If so, how did it impact your life? Anything I should be aware of that is not evident at first glance? Questions I should be asking?

Thanks in advance.


Not strictly a help line but i have helped in other places i won’t name here , a few people died last speaking to me and it was stressful losing them .I’ve also had a grisly task of contacting the family . Not good , depending on the company you are going to you may have to be pro-choice rather than persuading anybody out of it Samaritans are pro-choice unless they say they are going to do it while on the line you are obliged to call the police.

When somebody died it was sad for a while and i would lose sleep over it, but then they finally got what they wanted that is peace ,which was of some comfort i guess. Alot of the time the people just want somebody to talk to and you have to be non judgemental alot of the time.Also you can’t save everybody either and the decision is theirs in the long run.

Questions you should ask before signing up are :

-suicide stand prochoice , or anti suicide

-if you are legally bound to trace calls if somebody threatens to suicide (commit has criminal overtones)

-are you allowed to quit anytime , this is important you will probably have some stressful times for this

The way it affected my life was that it made me feel quite bad sometimes but others would say i was doing a decent job since i was providing some limited comfort to people.After a while it became too much and I left it behind.

One question you should definitely ask is what debriefing facilities will be available to support you.

I work at a suicide hotline right now, as a Mental Health Technician. We also have an inpatient crisis intervention center where people without insurance can some spend a week or two in a safe environment with trained professionals around to talk to.

Where I work, we answer phones for the five counties in my area plus 3 counties in the south part of the state. If someone calls with intent and a plan to kill themself, we try to get the address of where they are (oftentimes it’s a payphone somewhere) and then have a coworker get on another line and call the police in their town to go pick up the person. I’ve never had a situation where someone called and then not told me where they were. If they hang up, you *69 them and call the police in the area.

Usually, if an individual truly wants to die, they will not call a suicide hotline. More often, it’s a need for the “pain” to stop. Usually this pain is depression, schizophrenia, medical illness, or relationship problems.

I wasn’t trained much at all when I began answering phones… They told me the best way to learn how to talk someone down was hands-on practice. It’s a great feeling when someone calls at the end of their rope and you can help them find coping strategies.

The mental health profession is a great bunch of people with a wicked sense of humor. (You HAVE to have a sense of humor when the same girl calls 6 times in one night shaking a bottle of pills in the background but when you call the police to go check on her, she is just sitting on the couch calm as can be watching tv.)

It’s such a rewarding job, and there are times when you want to strangle the caller for not realizing that an abusive relationship is dangerous or for not taking their meds as prescribed. At the end of the day, you can go home knowing that you’ve helped people.

I say go for it. :slight_smile:

Whoa…how the people outside the bell jar live…

Is that a reference to Slyvia Plath?

Thanks for the information, guys. I think I will be interviewing sometime next week - I’ll let you know how it goes!



I was involved with a student nightline for two years, and then with a telephone befriending service for a further ten.

For the second, we had ten weeks of formal training for one evening a week, and then there was plenty of support whilst on shift, both from a shift leader, and a second point of contact if needed. A lot of support also came from the volunteers at the branch, and I still count two of the people I trained with as my best friends.

It can be harrowing. I’ve listened to people deciding to kill themselves, and I’ve read the press reports of the death of others to whom I have spoken.

But there are plenty of volunteers to support you. Strangely, there’s plenty of laughter involved too. Perhaps the demands of listening need a fair amount of defusing. Or perhaps the other people who volunteer are those you’ll enjoy being with outside of the time you’re actually on call.

Things I might ask are:

  • What is the time commitment?
    The befriending service I volunteered for asks for four hours a fortnight, and an overnight a month.
  • How is the time allocated?
    Some services do regular shifts, others ask you to sign up for times you can manage. This is a consideration if you have a job or a home life which makes one option difficult.
  • Can you take a break if you need to?
    Samaritans in the UK reckon that the average timespan over which a person volunteers is about 4 years. But many volunteers can take a break of a few months during that period, for example if going through a stressful period in their own life.

Good luck with the interview, FM. On balance, I would say do it. There will be times when you wish you’d never said yes, perhaps at 4:30am on a night shift when you have work the next day, and someone calls you to say that they can’t sleep and they’re bored. Or, if you’re female, when yet another man calls to say that he bets you’re wearing sexy lingerie (yeah, well, maybe, but it’s under three layers of sweats…and I really have heard that heavy breathing so many times before). But there will be calls when you are just glad that you were there. And then it’s worth it.