My Experience as a Crisis Counselor
By Kristen Flowers
Last week, I talked to three people planning to commit suicide. In fact, for the last six weeks, every Thursday I spend four hours talking to people all over the country looking for support as they think about ending their lives, struggle with self harm, contemplate leaving abusive relationships, or even need a place to stay after running away from home.
They reach out to me because I am a Crisis Text Counselor for the Crisis Text Line and with September being National Suicide Prevention month I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my experience.
First off, I am not a licensed therapist nor do I diagnose anyone who texts in, all we do is listen. Sometimes that’s all people need. If a person is looking for support they text 741-741 from anywhere in the country to reach the counselors at CTL. At that point we reach out to them to discover what they would like to talk about and simply listen to their concerns and fears.
I have had calls from just as many men as women facing a variety of issues including; fighting with parents and wanting to run away, regretting their choice to have children and dealing with the pain of regret each time they look at them, having an abusive boyfriend who they refuse to leave, couples where one of the partners wants to create a suicide pact, gender confusion issues, and of course depression, anxiety and fear.
Crisis Text Line counselors are trained to handle everything; but even with six weeks and eighty hours of training it’s never easy when a call comes in. There is no formula to “help” someone as much as I wish there was. As a counselor, it’s still scary when the person on the end of the line says they are thinking of taking their own life while sitting next to a knife or rope. The normal instinct that kicks in is to tell them “everything will be okay” and “you have so much to live for” but the sad truth I have learned is that might not be the case. It’s impossible for us to understand what people are going through and in some of these cases the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim.
So what do we do? We ask them about their history with suicide attempts, what pushed them over the edge this particular day, and mostly just let them get whatever they want off their chest. In the back of my mind, it’s always a comfort to know that they sought our help in this difficult time. They want someone to convince them there is a reason to go on and normally, after an hour of chatting, the person feels a weight lifted and the idea of suicide is no longer on the table.
Of course, there are times when someone doesn’t want the help. Although it’s extremely rare, an Active Rescue requires us to contact police and send help to the caller, or friends and family have been notified. The difficult part for us counselors is that when we hand the case over to the police we relinquish our control, meaning we never find out what happened to that person. Some nights we go to bed wondering if that person turned out okay.
Before going through my training I never realized how many people need help at all times of the day. While most of our calls come in on Friday or Saturday nights we still have a steady stream of people throughout the entire day and when looking at the stats it’s easy to see why.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death with children 10-24 years old. One in five children age 13-18 years old have a serious mental illness. Also, 90% of those attempting suicide having an underlying mental illness.
Crisis Text Line is trying to help those numbers come down by advertising heavily in our nations schools and malls. It’s such a relief to hear that the message is getting out. More and more people decide to text each day before harming themselves. Because we have seen in influx of texters CTL is now conducting a nationwide search for more volunteer counselors. If you have four hours each week to give to this organization we want to hear from you. Fill out the application online at http://www.crisistextline.org/join-our-efforts/volunteer/
Without ever having to leave your home you can be the hero in someone’s story.