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What is it Like to Call a Crisis Line?

Have you ever called a crisis hotline? If so, you might have talked to Susanna Rickman, a crisis worker at Gryphon Place, a Kalamazoo-based organization dedicated to helping people navigate crisis situations.

One of the many ways Gryphon Place, a West Michigan organization that focuses on helping those in conflict and crisis, carries out its mission is through the 24-hour crisis hotline. Anyone experiencing crisis can call to sort through their thoughts when they need an empathetic and objective ear. Staff are trained in suicide prevention and Gryphon Place is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Rickman said many employees that answer calls have their own mental health experiences and are drawn to help others.

“Many employees are there because they have a calling,” she said.

The tactics Rickman and her colleagues use to help suicidal callers can be beneficial to people who find themselves navigating how to talk to a friend or loved one they suspect might be considering suicide. For those who’ve been thinking about calling a crisis line, getting a feel for what that might be like can help address any fears people might have about dialing for help.

“It’s scary to make that call, but we’re here to help,” Rickman said. Here are general principles Rickman and her colleagues follow when they take calls:

  • No judgment. No matter the reason for reaching out to a crisis line, callers can expect a calm, kind and empathetic ear. “No one will ever make fun of you,” Rickman explained. If you picked up the phone and called us, it was a crisis.”  
  • Say it. If Gryphon Place staff suspect a caller is considering suicide, they’re trained to directly ask them if they are thinking about suicide. There’s a misconception that talking about suicide will lead someone to follow through on their thoughts, when in fact, talking about those feelings can reduce the risk that someone will act on suicidal feelings.
  • Ask questions. “Some hear suicide and freak out,” Rickman said. “If someone says, ‘I’m thinking of suicide,’ I ask more questions.” Asking callers if they’ve thought through how they plan to die by suicide and whether they have the means to carry out such a plan can help Rickman determine how serious the caller is about following through. When Gryphon Place staff feel someone is an immediate danger to themselves or others, they call out for emergency support.
  • Focus on moving forward. When thoughts of suicide haven’t taken the shape of a concrete plan to self-harm, Rickman and fellow crisis workers will work with callers to identify the root cause of suicidal ideation. Oftentimes, putting a plan in place to deal with stressors can help people move forward and seek treatment or other community supports.

The work is stressful, Rickman acknowledges. Staff have a wellness room and are encouraged to take breaks or even debrief after particularly difficult calls. They often don’t know the effect their conversation had on a caller.

“You want to think that nobody died on your watch, but sometimes you just don’t know,” she said.

Still, it’s gratifying to help people work through their problems and start talking. Some people regularly call the crisis line to check in, giving staff an opportunity to help them move forward on a day-to-day basis. Some of the hardest calls come from parents who have lost their children to suicide.

“You can’t really answer ‘why’,” she said. “That’s a question that can never be answered.”

If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide or have concerns about a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Or, call Gryphon Place directly at (269) 381-4357.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is proud to support Gryphon Place’s 7th annual Suicide Prevention Walk, taking place virtually on Saturday, Sept. 26.  

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Photo credit: Mixmike

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