About a year ago, a young woman away at college reached out to the 1-800-Suicide hotline. Her cell phone, which had a 516 area code, routed to Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore. She abused pills. After the counselor supported her for calling, the client had enough trust to ask for help and the counselor assistant was able to connect with the police department. A life was saved.
Too often, help comes too late. Suicide rates have increased 24 percent over the past 14 years, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control released this year. It is also the second leading cause of death in 10 to 24-year-olds. Volunteers at the Long Island Crisis Center are working to stop the pain.
“Volunteers are the true heroes of our agency…they are our infrastructure,” said director of development Fran Karliner. “We are hoping that with our programs and initiatives we can make a positive impact on Long Island by raising the visibility of the issue of suicide and help destigmatize talking about suicide and mental illness.”
The volunteer staff is comprised of approximately 100 counselors and 100 assistant counselors. Counselors commit to 250 training hours over about nine months, and a minimum of nine months of six-hour shifts a week staffing hotlines.
“Because of the areas we address [like self-injury, domestic violence, heroine addictions, etc.] our counselors go through extensive training to be able to carefully handle the situation while gaining the person’s trust.”
Long Island Crisis center has a Suicide Outreach Team that responds to third party calls, meaning when they are contacted by a third party who is concerned about another person who is threatening suicide, counselors are then available to call the suicidal individual to offer him/her help. The program also responds to a suicidal client, providing follow-up calls to see how the person at risk is doing.
“Most crisis centers are reactive—a person reaches out to the crisis center. With our Suicide Outreach Team, our counselors are pro-active and reach out to the person at-risk.”
Trust is the most important factor, as evidenced by the young woman who called from college.
“Eighty percent of the time people tell someone before they commit suicide. In some way, they need to communicate it to someone.”
The Long Island Crisis Center is also trying to help members of the community before they need to call the hotline with programs like Building Healthy Lives Through Education. The initiative sends volunteers into local schools to talk about topics like cyber-bullying, self-injury, anger management and suicide awareness and prevention. Another program, Pride for Youth, raises awareness for and provides services such as support groups to LGBTQ youth.
“We are reaching over 21,000 students and professional staff. The majority [are] students, young people. We feel if we can reach them and make them aware at an early age [starting at middle school] then maybe as they face crisis in their own lives they will know there is some place to call.”
But it doesn’t stop at one demographic. Among Americans of all ages, 12.4 out of 100,000 commit suicide. For those 65 and older, that number was 14.9 out of 100,000. The LI Crisis is working with the town of Hempstead to set up a 24/7 help line for town seniors in 2017.
“They can call if feeling lonely, isolated, they’re grieving over loss of a spouse or they need resources because they are shut-ins and don’t know how to get food delivered.”
Because above all, the LI Crisis Center wants everyone to know they’re not alone, no matter who they are.