Oct 28th 2014 by suicidalballoon • 36 Questions • 798 Points
I've been working on a national suicide hotline for almost two years now. I've had many interesting experiences talking with people. I've talked to someone who was holding a gun to their head, to someone who was slipping into an overdose, to many different kinds of sex callers, to lots of people who were lonely and just wanted to be heard. I love what I do and have a lot I could say about it.
I unfortunately can't say much about who I am or where I work in order to maintain confidentiality. I can say that I and my coworkers are all disgruntled because we are not respected by the people we work for, though! I have a lot to say about this as well.
So go ahead... ask me anything!
EDIT: Thanks for all the replies! It's been fun sharing my thoughts and experiences. I'm off to bed for the night (This is my first night off in a long time so I'm going to catch up on missed sleep, oh yeah). I just wanna say that I don't intend for this thread to be a counseling session. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal then I encourage you to call a hotline. Here's a Google search just for you: https://www.google.com/#q=suicide+hotlines
I was having cam sex with someone online. Their humanity leaked through via guilt about having had cam sex. I talked with them and was able to get through to them. They were crying and said I had helped them so much and that I had given them the best advice anyone had ever given them. I hadn't ever felt so good about having done something. I then started pursing this line of work. It feels amazing knowing you've helped someone feel better when they're in a dark place.
What do you tell someone who is suicidal with the mind set that: "in the end, there is no point to anything any way"?
That's really tough. Those are usually the mindsets of people who are committed to dying soon. One person was calling before they were going to jump off a bridge. They had tried slitting their wrists before calling but failed because it hurt too much. The night before they had tried overdosing on pills and booze but was saved by a sibling. I asked them how they felt knowing their sibling had saved them and they said: "Angry because I wanted to die." They had another sibling they were close to and so I used the guilt tactic of "How would they feel if you killed yourself?" and they said, after a pause: "Sad. But they would get over it eventually." Which is technically true.
So in answer to your question: I try to explore existential ruts by finding just one thing the caller can look forward to, even if it's taking a bath or listening to music or going for a walk. Questions of meaning and purpose are super deep and I do go deep with those who are willing to go there (I studied philosophy in college, hehe) but in the end I realize I can't erase someone's existential doubt--I can only distract them from it temporarily.
Yes! I get a few a week. Pranksters are almost always young boys in groups. I can tell that it's a prank within a few seconds usually because the tone is off (and the almost inevitable snickering in the background is another fucking giveaway). I actually really enjoy dealing with pranksters because it challenges me to be assertive--something I'm not usually in my everyday life (I'm a shy and delicate flower most of the time). They usually hang up when I mention that it's illegal to prank call a suicide hotline. If they don't then I read their phone number to them (it almost always shows up unless it's an internet number) and ask if this is the number I should give the police. Haha one time I did this and a background voice screamed: "Hang up!!!" I cackled.
I don't really understand the motivations of your employer. Suicide hotlines aren't exactly a cash cow. You say they want to expand, and aren't compassionate towards their employees. Non-profits are normally staffed with compassionate people, so I don't really understand what drives the politics. Can you expand on this at all? Where are they spending the money that should go towards providing benefits to employees?
It's an awful situation. The executives who run the organization are the ones who make the decisions about where to put money. One of these people is apparently so awful that three or four of their assistants have quit. Many other people in the organization have left over the past few years for similar reasons--not feeling comfortable with how things are done. The cash-cow aspect comes from the huge amount of money donated to the organization by the public. They are able to set aside paltry amounts of the budget for actual life-saving. I agree that many of the people staffed here are compassionate, good people; it's just those at the top who fuck everything up.
Here's probably the best example I can give of what I mean: there used to be a portion of the budget reserved for housing youth during a yearly retreat. This money is no longer in the budget and has instead been used to house executives during a yearly meeting. This demonstrates that securing the allegiance of the wealthy is more important to the organization than supporting underpriveleged youth.
Did you ever have a caller who you knew you couldn't save? Also thanks for doing the AMA!
Yeah, unfortunately. Someone I once spoke to truly had nothing to live for and I unfortunately agreed with why they came to that conclusion. They had multiple mental illnesses (schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, PTSD from being raped numerous times), were homeless, unemployed, in chronic pain, enjoyed nothing... I asked them about the last time they had laughed and they said it was a few years ago. We ended up sending the cops after this person because they were going to kill themselves that night. They hung up before the cops could get there.
I called the hotline one time and the person on the other end just simply repeated what I said in the form of a question. It would be like
Me: I'm so distraught and I want to harm myself because of reasons Operator: So I'm hearing that you want to harm yourself due to reasons and you feel distraught?
SO not helpful! Is that normal in the training?
Yeah that sounds like a robotic way of applying the "reflect what you hear" principle often used in counseling. Every person is different in how they communicate, especially counselors. It sounds like this person may be methodically applying what they've learned instead of allowing their human capacities to guide them. I'm sorry you had this experience, not everyone you talk to would be like that (I'm not!)
Out of all your calls, which one has been your favorite or meant the most to you?
Thanks! And did I say thanks again? Thanks.
A call that stands out in my mind comes from a kid who was relocated to live somewhere in the South with distant relatives and lost all of their support in doing so. They were relocated in the first place because the distant relatives worked with the church and so the rest of the family thought they'd be able to cure the youth of their non-heterosexuality. They were genderqueer and thus presented in masculine ways some days and feminine ways other days. They went to their first day of school presenting as a boy, the next day presenting as a girl. They were bullied constantly by both their peers and by people in the community. They had one friend, though. This friend supported them. One day they went to the friend and told them about how badly they had been treated. The friend responded by invalidating them, saying that others had it worse so they shouldn't complain. The caller said they got really upset at this and got into an argument. It apparently was a truly awful argument because the caller's friend ended up killing themselves because of it. In their suicide note they blamed the caller for it. This reinforced the caller's bullying because now everyone blamed them for the kid's suicide. Anyway, a super heavy story that really hit me. I connected super well with the caller. At the end of the call I reminded them that they could always call us back if they were feeling suicidal. They then asked: "If I called back could I talk to you again?" I melted and said that that probably wouldn't happen because lots of people answer calls. They responded: "Oh. Well I just feel a friend in you." I was so moved. I wondered if I was the first person that felt like a friend since the one that killed themselves. I felt so honored. I remember after the call ended I felt this overwhelmingly beautiful sense of having found my calling. My vision even changed as everything around me became more vibrant. I remember sitting in my car crying tears of sorrow and joy: sorrow knowing someone had gone through so much, joy knowing I had connected with them and given them hope. This person never ended up calling back. I'm glad. I don't want to have to talk with them again.
Please explain why you are disgruntled? It's not like you have quotas do you?
I and the rest of my coworkers are all extremely upset with where we work. We are not valued as people and are mismanaged by people who are either incompetent or malicious. We feel we have no support except for one another. They offer us no psychological support and are unwilling to do so. They keep us part-time so they don't have to pay us benefits. One of my coworkers (who recently resigned) was retaliated against when they questioned the allocation of money within the organization at a budget meeting. I am actually going to be losing my job soon as collateral damage from this retaliation. The organization, of course, doesn't say they've retaliated--they say they are making improvements to the efficiency of the services they offer. We and everyone else who isn't an executive knows that this is bullshit, though. I work for an awful organization that is seen from the outside as a great place full of people who save lives. This couldn't be farther from the truth--the people who run the organization are much more focused on growth and productivity than they are interested in helping. I am truly devastated by how I and the people I work with have been treated. The only reason I've stuck around is because of how much I love what I do.
Do you ever sic the police on your callers, just to save them from themselves?
We send the police if the caller is planning on killing themselves the same night and has the means. These are called rescue calls and they are really stressful.
As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety myself, a lot of the pertinent ones have been asked (that I could see. The existential "no point to anything" was the one I was gonna do).
But... being morbid, have you have had a call end and later realise that person couldn't be helped? How did that affect you?
I often feel like many of the people who call are beyond the kind of help we can give them. This is definitely a sad thing to realize. However, I don't feel responsible for either their predicament or their improvement because I realize that a person needs to be motivated within themselves to get better and that I cannot give that to them. This is how I'm able to not be affected by those who seem beyond help.
I've never gotten a drink after work because I get off at 5am and want to go straight to bed, haha. I used to work mornings (5am-11am) and would take myself out to lunch to cope... but mornings were truly awful for me, I couldn't do them.
While I've never gotten a drink after work I have definitely smoked lots of weed... hehe ;)
In your everyday life, do you sometimes help your friends and family with their problems ? Or do they come to you for any advice ?
I've pretty much always been someone people come to for help and support. It's just how I am. I've always been super in tune with people and their feelings. This can be a gift and a curse--a gift when I'm helping someone, a curse when I'm crippled by worry for someone.
How/what got you into this line of work? And do you need a degree in psychology or anything in order to do your occupation? Lastly, is the training rigorous to get in to your work?
Read some of the other replies for information about how I got into this work.
I can't speak for all suicide hotlines but I can say that for the one I work on they don't require any formal education in psychology. One of the biggest aspects of the interview process is an exploration of self-care because they want to see that you know how to cope with stress since the job is definitely stressful.
The training where I work is about a 40 hour class. It's a lot of information. The real learning comes from practicing calls via role plays (see other comments about this)
Does religion ever play a part in what you say/hear (like talking a Christian out of it because it's considered a sin)?
Religion is always a bit tricky to navigate. The most common religion-related concerns I get come from people (usually kids) who aren't heterosexual and hear from others that they are going to hell because of it. My approach to this is to distinguish what they believe about their religion and what they've been told to believe. It's usually productive because few people experience religion in a way that makes them feel like they're going to hell; what they instead experience is dissonance between what they've heard about god and what they feel from god.
At some point do you realize that someone is beyond help?
It depends on how we define help. Sometimes help means getting someone to feel a little bit better. In this sense: yes definitely. Many people call and are help-rejecting because they have really high expectations about what we might be able to do to help them. They shoot down every suggestion and are in general defensive about every attempt we make to get through to them. I hate these kinds of calls. These people are beyond help because they've chosen to be.
Other times help means not getting someone to kill themselves. In this sense: rarely, because those who call choose to do so and thus some part of them still wants to live. It's this basic fact that allows these folks to be helped.
How do you not break down when people are sharing their stories with you?And also what would you tell a suicidal teen?
I conceptualize a lot of what I do in terms of an idea of "emotional boxes". I keep all the emotions I have with a caller in an emotional box--as in, I keep everything contained and don't think of what I'm feeling in a long-term sense. It's kind of hard to explain. It's not that I dehumanize the caller... it's more like I approach them like puzzles. Hearing about their story is just one part of the puzzle. I recognize and feel basic components of their story but don't take it to heart. Very few calls linger with me nowadays. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I don't break down when talking to callers because I practice controlled empathy.
I'd need to know more about what was making the teen feel suicidal. Usually with teens I focus more on the future (e.g., college or career plans) so they can realize that there's a lot more they can do with their life. I also add in normalization--the fact that it's totally OK to not have everything figured out when you're a teen and that you sometimes need to hurt in order to grow.