Someone on the other end of a phone line can play a crucial role for someone considering suicide. Contact Community Services is seeking more hotline volunteers for what can be a life-saving service.
Sue Navagh remembers a time when she was in need of some support after her marriage ended.
“Through the very strange time of suddenly being single and also winding up empty nesting, because when he left the youngest child left for college, I was completely flummoxed and devastated. I found this number through my doctor’s office and started calling it. That was 9 years ago and they were wonderful.”
When back on her emotional feet, Sue thought she might help out on the other end of the line. But she says the volunteer training can be a little counterintuitive.
"If you’ve been a mother, if you’ve been even a friend, you tend to want to fix problems for people. That is not what we do here. We do reflective listening…and that is n interesting skill, to know when to just listen and listen sympathetically, but not to always say ‘o.k., well this is what you need to do to fix it.’”
While most of the calls they receive are not from a person in crisis, some people are very close...calling as a last resort. Contact Volunteer Relations Manager Kristine Knutson says phone operators need to be ready to hear those pleas.
“For example they might say, ‘I’m in so much pain, I can’t go on anymore. I wish it would just stop.’ We are then obligated to ask that tough question: are you thinking of killing yourself? We don’t sugar coat it. We don’t use euphemisms, ‘are you thinking of ending your life? Do you want to maybe hurt yourself?’ We’re direct about it so there can’t be any misconceptions.”
Knutson adds many of the 70 or so people she needs to staff the hotline have had a personal or family experience with depression...like Sue.
“They can bring an extra level of empathy, and I think they have worked on the skill to be able to be present and be with the caller, and listen to the caller, without injecting their own views or their own agenda into the call. The focus is always on the caller in these situations.”
Contact starts a new round of training for phone volunteers this Friday. You can sign up or learn more about the training at ContactSyracuse.org (application at bottom of page)..