Have you ever used a suicide hotline?

Did you find it helpful? There are a lot of them out there, it seems. Was one better than others? Are they really safe? Are they mostly for teenagers or for everyone?

For several years during the 80s I was a trained volunteer counselor at a crisis intervention hotline. We accepted all clients, regardless of their age or problems, including suicides, drug abuse, child abuse, teen runaways, LGBT issues, health issues, senior issues, spousal abuse and any other reason a person may be calling (or walking in). Obviously, other agencies may be more narrow in scope, so if you have a specific hotline in mind, call and ask them. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to someone who can.

I don’t know what you mean by “safe”. In what respect wouldn’t you feel safe?

I think by safe the OP means confidential. I worked for one once, and we did not trace lines, albeit, it was a lot harder to do back then. We had no more information than what people disclosed.

I was instructed to hand the phone off to a supervisor under three circumstances: 1) a person confessed to a felony involving a victim [read: rape, homicide, felony burglary, robbery, etc]; 2) a child stated they were being abused to any degree, or a teen to the degree of needing medical attention (CPS was overloaded, and often didn’t investigate 16 & 17 year-olds being beaten, when there was a 5-year-old receiving the same treatment); 3) anyone who stated they were being sexually abused by a parent, even young adults, like 18 & 19 year-olds still at home. The supervisor would try to get them to disclose some information so we could track them down, but it was tough.

FWIW, we got all kinds of people who just needed to talk about something; a lot of them stated that they were not suicidal, and wanted to know if it was OK to still use the hotline.

I guess one of the potential concerns that a person might have with a support service like this is whether there is a risk that engagement might trigger an irreversible course of action that results in things like being put on suicide watch, being sectioned/committed to psychiatric care, and that the outcomes of those things would inevitably cascade to loss of job and reputation, family issues, etc.

I have to believe that the system can’t be as dumb as all that, though.

I graduated and started my professional life about twenty years ago. I drove to a new town one day, but the moving truck with all of my stuff wasn’t going to show up for three more days; I had some blankets, a pillow, a few changes of clothes, and a few other items. That first night, I didn’t know anybody or anything in this town, I was sitting on the floor in an empty apartment with virtually none of my familiar possessions, and I was severely anxious about having left behind everything I knew (4 yrs undergrad + 6 yrs grad, so that had been my life for ten years) and starting a totally different kind of life.

The next day was my first day on the job. I spent large portions of that first day contemplating suicide - the thought itself was a bit of a relief valve, I suppose. At some point during the day when my mind shifted over to thinking about how I could actually do it when I got home that night, a bit flipped in my head and I realized, goddammit, it wasn’t supposed to be like this and I needed help. In all of the new employee material I had received that morning, one of the items was a sheet about the Employee Assistance Program; I resolved to call them when I got home.

Somehow I made it through the work day without having a complete meltdown; you might have noticed I was not exactly jubilant, but you wouldn’t have had a clue about the depths of despair I was going through inside.

After getting home and then crying my eyes out for half an hour - I mean can’t-pick-my-head-up, drooling-on-the-floor crying - I called the EAP and said I needed some help. They collected some personal info, part of which included asking how long I’d been on the job.

“One day,” I squeaked out. :smiley:

They connected me with a counselor, whom I talked to for maybe twenty minutes. This was a couple of decades ago now, so I don’t remember exactly what was said. At some point he asked if I had thought about hurting myself; I said I had thought about it that day, but I was OK now (I mean shoot, that was why I had called). He was satisfied that I was not in any imminent danger, and that I could hold myself together for another day or two until I could meet face-to-face with a local therapist for a couple of gratis sessions.

All in all, it was a good thing for me; I’m glad it was there and that I had the wherewithal to reach out to them.

I don’t think you get put on psychiatric hold unless the phone counselor has reason to believe you’re in imminent danger; it’s expensive and disruptive, so you don’t pull the trigger on that unless it’s really necessary. If you call from your living room and say you’re having trouble coping with daily life, they probably won’t call the authorities; OTOH if you are standing on the overpass railing and call saying you need a reason not to jump right now, they’re going to try to get someone out there to talk you down and bring you to the hospital for a couple of days of observation.

I think you’re probably right - or else we’d hear a lot more about cases triggered at too low a level of risk.

I guess the other thing people might be worried about, if they are at a certain watershed point in their crisis, is whether calling the hotline might trigger the response and this could close the door on their one remaining escape option.

I had to really think hard about posting this. I did once, right before I got out of the army. I’m glad I was in when I was in that place mentally. For all the bad stories you hear about what happens to service members after getting mental health care, (a lot of truth in those stories) my experience *while *getting the help was…well…I’m here today posting. Military mental health workers are a different kind of service member completely from all other service members IME.

The only uncomfortable part for me was that, in the military, this kind of thing gets your (in my case all the way to the commanding general) entire chain of command notified as standard operating procedure, even if they don’t get any details. In my case, my unit had several recent suicides. I was the one who got help instead.

As for the rest of the OP’s question are they for teenagers or for everyone, the base hospital that ran the hotline had it posted in the civilian phone book (I called them from a Dennys) and would take calls from anyone military or civilian.

I was never put on suicide watch, or restricted in anyway, hell, the following weekend I was given a 4 day pass on recommendation by my Dr. and went to meet a girl almost a full days’ drive away in another state. My chain of command was never given any details about what triggered my mental state or my call to them. They only knew that I did it and when my therapy appointments were and what medication I was prescribed to help get me stabilized emotionally. Oh, and what my schedule for taking the medication was. So, maybe a little heightened discrete observation, but like I said, nothing restrictive.

I worked for a crisis hotline. Unless they specifically state that they are intended for a specific audience they are for everyone. The one I worked with was specifically for sexual assault or abuse survivors but if someone else called, I would work to connect them with the right resource. We didn’t just hang up on anyone.

I only had one person committed on a psychiatric hold, in all of my time working (thousands of hours, hundreds of calls). She had a young infant at home and was suicidal and had mixed emotions about her child (conceived in her rape). In that case, I had no choice but to act.

For the most part, my role was to talk with the callers. Listen if they just wanted to talk, and hopefully get them connected with other longer-term resources if needed.

We did not track callers, or record lines, or anything like that.

OP maybe you could explain what you mean by “safe” or elaborate a little more on what you would like to know about suicide or crisis lines?

I’ve never called one, but I do have a question.

Has anyone taken a call from someone they knew?


Where I volunteered, the protocol would be to hand the call off to another counselor, for reasons of objectivity and confidentiality. If no other counselor were available, the caller may be asked to call back, unless in the event of an actual emergency. But in the years I was there, I don’t recall that ever happening.

It never happened to me or at my center, so far as I know.

basically, I guess, that they’re not going to send the cops to your door or do anything… yeah… disruptive and expensive. I know that’s an unbelievably stupid question. But when it comes to suicide, people can be… touchy.

Another long-time volunteer here. I did crisis hotline work for several years, accumulating a few thousand hours of shifts.

We were there for anybody and everybody. Not only were we a traditional crisis hotline, but at the time the 1-800-SUICIDE line rang our phones in our region, as did some veterans support lines.

Like a cop’s job, the work was 99% boredom and 1% intense excitement (though perhaps not “terrifying” as one might describe the cop’s job for that 1%).

We spent the vast majority of our time speaking with the regulars, folks who would call daily or weekly to talk about their life’s problems. For the most part, I liked talking to them. These folks made our line a part of their daily routine, part of how they cope with life. They would range the gamut from incoherent mumbling or tin-foil-hat talk to intelligent well spoken individuals with career and family who depended on us for some part of their life.

The actual suicide calls were rare: I received one every two or three shifts. They were absolute priority, and I would spend hours talking with someone if it was needed. More than once I told someone “Hold on a second, I want to call home and let my wife know I’ll be a little late” and then continued talking with them.

We had much latitude as to how to handle calls–since the circumstances are all so unique there was no easy way to say “call the cops at this point”. There was an assessment checklist that we would go through (I tried to be sneaky about getting answers to the questions, without sounding like it was a survey). The questions were things like asking if they had a plan, and if they had made any preparations, if they had the means, and so on.
I would only call the cops if it were necessary, and then only after asking permission of the individual, and asking them to give their name and address. It was surprising how many people readily provided that information.

We maintained confidentiality and did not report our caller to anyone beyond aggregate statistics. We were forbidden from ever meeting any callers, and that makes sense; nevertheless, there were multiple times where I wished I could have gone to visit someone in need, or gone to deliver groceries to an elderly person who couldn’t leave their home, but we couldn’t.

For the most part we never knew how things turned out. That was one of the more difficult parts of the job. Occasionally we would get a call back a few weeks later and the person would thank us for what we did. There was one woman who had once described to me in detail how she was going to end her life the following morning after her husband went to work. She called me every few months for years and we talked quite a bit.

Callers ranged from children to the very old. I think the most common suicide callers were college-age girls. But there were plenty men and women of all ages.
It is alarming to find yourself speaking with an 11-year-old boy who is planning on taking his life; it is saddening to speak with an elderly person who has nothing in their life and suffers from many physical ailments, when you can’t see any reason for them to want to live.

There were a fair number of prank calls, and those were pretty easy to spot since most prank callers don’t have their story straight. In addition the female volunteers had to deal with inappropriate calls. One time when I had a college girl as an apprentice, I was monitoring a call she took and was shocked at how direct the guy was.
But with all that, the work was always rewarding. No matter how annoying some callers got or how boring things were, there was always that one call that let me know I was doing a good thing and had helped someone through their difficult day.

Telephone hotline: no

Walk-in crisis center: yeah, off and on over a period of 6 months when I was 19.

I wasn’t actively suicidal but they let me come in to talk anyway, as long as they weren’t unduly busy at that time. It helped me just to have someone sit there while I put stuff into words. I wanted advice and more specifically I wanted something I thought of as “help” — fix me, make me normal, help me get on the road to progress so I can have a life, that kind of thing. I’d go in desperate and intense, like “I can’t stand it ONE DAY LONGER, so tell me what’s wrong with me and fix it”. And of course they didn’t have magic wands and (less obviously) didn’t have much good advice to offer. And the next day I would not be in the same mood and never followed through with recommended outpatient services. They were kind about it: one person said I had deeper problems even if I was less immediately dangerous to myself than the main people they were funded to serve, and reassured me it was OK that I kept coming in like that.

Back about 2005-2006, I was at rock bottom. I was jobless, couldn’t find work, my dad and my dog had both just died. I wanted to die, too. I finally called a suicide hotline. The woman I spoke to was VERY cold and snippy. She snapped at me when I explained my situation that ‘you don’t want to die! Just get out and get a job!’ I tried explaining that I had BEEN trying and she butted in and said I wasn’t trying hard enough, McDonald’s is always hiring.

I was thoroughly shocked by her attitude and hung up on her.

PapSett that is awful. I’m sorry that happened to you.

minor7flat5 your experience sounds relatively similar to mine. A few key differences: I lived in a mandated reporting state. If minors were involved, I had to involve the authorities. I could also arrange to meet the callers IF they wished to do so AND we involved the appropriate authorities. This was a sexual assault crisis line, so I could meet them at the hospital and act as their advocate during the process. I could meet them at a diner if they just wanted to talk about things, but I had to notify the local police that the meeting was occurring.

SurrenderDorothy for the most part, no, no one is coming to your door or doing anything expensive or disruptive. The focus is on getting the caller the help they need. The ideal situation is getting them connected to longer term resources, but if all they want to do is talk to the counselor on the phone that’s ok too. Exceptions to this rule would be if they were an immediate threat to themselves or others. Does this mean that someone should not call if they are feeling suicidal? Absolutely not. They should call. Discuss their situation with someone outside of their reality, find a sympathetic ear, and find out what resources are available to help them.

I would say that if you or someone you know needs to call, please do so. Just call, talk to someone and see what happens from there. Everyone I’ve ever known who works at these centers (almost all volunteers) are wonderful, caring people who are there to help. No one should be afraid to call because someone will make you do something.

I sepnt about 8 1/2 years total active volunteering at a crisis center across an 11ish year period. That included being a trainer for new volunteers and some elected “management” positions including running the Center.

I’ve also called a few times over the years. When I was active I also had this group of friends who’s phone numbers were on our volunteer phone roster who were well trained at active listening. Technically those don’t count as calling but…

We did offer short term sexual assault counseling and advocacy (like meeting them at the hospital.) Those volunteers had to go through extra training and had the assistance of one of our few paid position a professional consultant to assist. They were the only ones that could schedule to meet a client as opposed to just being available on shift at the center for whoever called/walked in next.

Mandatory reporting laws kicked in while I was there. Mostly that was an issue for the sexual assault counselors. For the rest of us mandatory reporting was basically a moot point. You can’t report information you don’t have. We didn’t ask and it was rare for a client to offer any of the information we were supposed to report.

In cases of active suicide, we could and occasionally did have calls traced for police intervention. The preferred route was more along the lines of contracting to just not take action while we were talking. (Something like “It’s hard for me to talk to you knowing you have the gun/pills you plan to OD on, etc right there in front of you, could you put it in the other room while we talk.” Overwhelmingly that worked. They called because they wanted to talk. Moving up to “I won’t talk to you unless…” handled most of the rest.) Traces could be used when they had already started like in one of our training roleplays where they called bleeding from trying to slash their wrists. Those were actually a small chunk of the suicide calls which themselves were a minority of calls. I had a grand total one active suicide who’d already taken the pills in my entire time there. I actually didn’t try to get it traced because I was on shift alone. Talking to the police on a different line simultaneously seemed like it was less helpful than just talking to her. That’s a bet I am pretty sure I lost.

Traces were REALLY hard and took a long time in the 1992-2003 where I was there. Although it came up every couple of years at our staff meetings, we intentionally did not have Caller ID enabled/displayed. Generally the risk of it being misused to violate confidentiality was seen as too high. As an organization we put client confidentiality over the slightly higher risk. Really read that last sentence to get a sense of just how high a value we put on confidentiality.

I can recall one case where a non-sexual assault counselor arranged a meeting with a client (with sexual assault issues) later outside the center. She got uncomfortable and called the police. His contact information got turned over to police and he never worked another shift.

We could call the police to protect the center and staff. The police got called when someone lit a fire in our walk-in room. The phone got picked up to call them when they thought an assault on me in the walk-in room was about to start. It was a pretty easy to exception to avoid for those concerned about confidentiality.

Knowing someone during an interaction was rare. We did have regular clients that weren’t usually in crisis and beyond our ability to help. A lot of them were in the mental health system and our county system loved hiring our volunteers for group homes and emergency hotline. All of us got familiar with those regulars and some worked with them outside the center. The rest of us might see them out and about around town.

For the non-regulars though it was rare to even suspect you knew the person. We generally just rolled with it as long as we could effectively help. Once I talked to a woman that I am pretty sure lived in the coop where my now ex-wife, and then fiance, lived in during her last year of college. I treated it like any other call. My shift partner once got a call from a former volunteer who’d moved out of state. She called the crisis line, because she wasn’t staff anymore and was in crisis. She volunteered that she had been staff and identified herself up front. Her name still didn’t go on the service card we filled out after calls. The cards weren’t strictly confidential.

I asked because I thought of, of all things, this clip from a “Beavis and Butthead” episode. Watch at your own risk.

There's a link to the full episode, called "Crisis Line", but it's been dubbed into German.

Ugh, I will never call a suicide hotline ever again, nor advise anyone else to ever do so.

In 2001 when I was in a rock-bottom place, I called one and the lady was extremely rude and snippy to me. I told her so, she was snippy once again and told me I was hard to work with. I should have just hung up, but I was in my early 20s and at a rock-bottom place, and didn’t have the best judgment back then. So instead of hanging up, I started protesting about what a lousy job she was doing and how she was supposed to be helping me. I tried to convince her I was serious about needing help and I truthfully mentioned I had some self-inflicted cuts on my arms (NOT my wrists…and I never said I was actively suicidal, as in “I am in immediate danger”). To which she said she had my number and address and was sending an ambulance to my house post-haste. Then she hung up on me.

I lived with my parents at the time and it was 4:00am. I had to wake them up and tell them that I had been lonely and bored and insomniac and had called a suicide hotline because I wanted to talk to someone, but the lady was an immense bitch and the ambulance was on its way and I’m really sorry I got into this mess, I wasn’t suicidal, etc…

And the triple-response bit with the ambulance, the cops and a fire truck all came to our door while my parents and I tried desperately to convince them that this was a misunderstanding, I’d recently been having problems but was currently in therapy…and the cops finally decided that I was “stable” and said I didn’t need to take the ambulance to a hospital as long as my parents took me to the hospital and I was deemed ok, along with an “all-clear” call from my therapist. At the hospital they took my vitals and gave me a fact sheet about insomnia and some tips for better sleeping habits.

That was quite a long time ago and I still get angry to think about it. I never called a helpline of any kind again after that and I never will.

Turpentine I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m also sorry that it was so long ago that you can’t report her to the crisis center for, er, re-education.