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Dana

Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a blended 2-1-1/crisis intervention/suicide prevention center. As the Communications and Social Media Manager at iCarol, you'll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today we recognize World Suicide Prevention Day and in its first ever global report on suicide, the World Health Organization reports that a staggering 800,000 lives per year are lost to suicide worldwide; one person every 40 seconds.

WHO suicide report

    The report goes on to say:

  • National prevention plans endorsed by governments could go a long way in preventing suicide, but currently only 28 countries have such strategies.
  • Most people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. It’s extremely important for mental illness or substance abuse issues to be identified, diagnosed, treated, and managed as early as possible.
  • Follow up care plays a huge role in keeping someone safe if they have previously had thoughts or made attempts at suicide. Phone calls, visits, and other regular contact with health professionals is key, as well as vigilance among family and friends.
  • In almost all regions of the world, people over age 70 have the highest rate of suicide.
  • Globally suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds.
  • Removal of means is a key component to suicide prevention

You can read that full report by the WHO here.

If we could impart just one thing on society it’d be this: Suicide is preventable, and it’s everyone’s business. It takes all of us, every single person out there, to help prevent suicide. Of course social workers, therapists, psychologists, doctors, and nurses all have an important role to play. But it’s the teachers, coaches, colleagues, professors, employers, friends, and family who are arguably the ones on the front lines of suicide prevention. They are the ones with the opportunity to recognize the warning signs, be aware of the risk factors, and know the difference between myths and facts. They are some of the first ones who should ask the direct question about suicide, and be ready and accepting of an honest answer. They can make a world of a difference by being there to listen without judgment even though the conversation can be uncomfortable and scary. They are the ones who can help most in reducing the stigma and shame all too commonly associated with mental illness and suicide. Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

And of course we have to give some major recognition to all of the suicide prevention helpline workers all around the world who save countless lives every single day through the simple act of being there. You are there for people at all hours to listen, empathize, normalize and validate feelings, and provide resources. For many people that phone call, text, or chat session is the first step at getting help, and your warm, accepting demeanor reassures them that they will encounter kindness and understanding along the way, and that there is hope. Thank you, we at iCarol are honored to play a small part in the incredible work you do.

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Changes to AIRS Problems/Needs Categories

If you use the “AIRS Problems / Needs” categories, there will be a small change to them coming with our next update of the taxonomy. AIRS announced they are splitting “Housing and Utility Assistance” into two separate categories: “Housing” and “Utilities”.

When you subscribe to the 211 Taxonomy in iCarol, you get the benefit of automatic updates and maintenance to the taxonomy about once per quarter, helping you stay current and meeting AIRS accreditation standards. Our next taxonomy update will be in early October 2014 so when that is completed, you’ll see this new Problems/Needs category change reflected in your iCarol system.

Once the change is in place, you can continue using any number of statistical reports on Problems/Needs to track and report on these issues, like this one showing the Problem/Needs categories with the current category breakdowns.

AIRSPNReport

Our Taxonomy updates take care of things like adding new codes or replacing codes that have been retired by AIRS. With the October update we will apply the changes to the needs categories, and we’ll automatically and retroactively place previously collected needs into the new appropriate categories, making your annual reports fall in line with what is being requested by AIRS.

If you’re a current iCarol user and have questions about what it means to use Taxonomy in iCarol, check out our videos found in the ‘Help’ section of your iCarol system. If you have questions or want to add Taxonomy to your iCarol system, log a case with us and we’ll be happy to work with you!

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iCarol clients in the news

Since the news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide last week, the number of times that suicide helpline numbers have been shared via social media is astounding. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has undoubtedly been the most common but more localized numbers all over North America, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere have also been shared. This has spurred an increase in call volume to suicide prevention lines everywhere and we wanted to take a moment to share some of the news stories we’ve seen in the previous week.

A report on NBC Nightly News about depression in America featured interviews with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline staff in New York City

The Support Network in Edmonton, Alberta saw a 7% increase to calls last week

This local report in New Jersey highlights the increased call volume seen at CONTACT We Care

The Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles has seen a 95% increase, virtually doubling their calls in the last week

We’re sure this collection of articles barely skims the surface of the experiences of helplines everywhere in the past week. Was your helpline featured in local or national media recently? Please leave us a comment below or send an email to and we will add your article to the list above.

We commend the great work that all of you have been doing in the face of increased awareness and media attention. Out of this notable loss millions have been exposed to the realities of depression and suicide, and your staff and volunteers have admirably stepped up to the challenge and been there to greet people with warm and empathetic listening. Especially for those seeking help for the first time you’ve provided comfort and reassurance that they’re not alone.

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How will you recognize Suicide Prevention Month?

Suicide Prevention Month is quickly approaching, with Suicide Prevention Week being recognized from September 8th – 14th and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. There are lots of ways you can recognize this upcoming event.

Join an Out of the Darkness Walk near you. These walks help raise awareness as well as money for research and education. During the month of September, particularly during suicide prevention Week, dozens of these walks will be held. Find one near you and register today.

Donate to a suicide prevention service in your area. You can donate to organizations that focus on research or education, though we humbly suggest you consider donating to a helpline that provides direct help and suicide prevention to those in need. Whether you’re in Canada, the US, or another country, there are suicide prevention lines near you that would greatly appreciate your donation and will put it to excellent use in directly preventing suicide in your community.

Volunteer for a suicide prevention service. These services are always looking for qualified volunteers to answer phones, help with fundraising efforts, and more. Suicide prevention month is a great time to start the application process.

Educate yourself on the topic of suicide. Did you know that suicide is the 9th leading cause of death in Canada and 10th in the United States, or that the elderly are at the highest risk of suicide? By learning the notable statistics, risk factors, warning signs, and myths and facts about suicide, you’ll be empowered to do more and share that knowledge with others.

Receive training on how to help others who are suicidal. Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility and everyone is capable of doing something to prevent it. Trainings like ASIST, safeTALK, QPR, and Mental Health First Aid are some examples of common trainings that may be offered in your community.

Spread the word with social media. Whether you use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or all of the above, post information in support of suicide awareness and prevention. Maybe try sharing some of those facts you learned, or share a personal story about how suicide has touched your life, or the life of someone you care about. Discussing suicide goes a long way in reducing stigma and bringing the issue out into the open where it belongs!

Alert the media and use your expertise or experience as a helpline agency to do a story on suicide prevention in your community and how people can be helped by contacting you. Agencies that have texting and live chat services always have a great angle for contacting the media to do a story on how those struggling with suicidal thoughts can use those services if they don’t want to call on the phone.

Whether you take one of these actions, or do something different, it’s important to recognize suicide prevention month. Your actions will show others that you care about raising awareness of suicide, and preventing it.

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Depression, suicide, and the loss of Robin Williams

Like so many others, we’re deeply saddened by the death of famous actor and comedian Robin Williams. His death, preliminarily declared a suicide by local authorities, comes as a shock to many who knew him as a comedic genius who brought laughter and joy to millions. While he openly discussed his drug and alcohol addictions and commitment to sobriety, he never publicly acknowledged any diagnosis of depression or other mental illness. His publicist and friends, however, have shared that he was “battling severe depression” and in Tuesday’s press conference authorities said he was seeking treatment for depression.

This tragic and untimely death of someone known and loved by millions has started a dialogue about mental illness and suicide. Since the announcement of Robin Williams’ death and the way he died, there has been an outpouring of support, discussion about mental illness and addictions, words of encouragement, and sharing of important suicide prevention resources and numbers to call for help, the most common being the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

To aid in this important discussion and opportunity for education, we’d like to share with you this blog by Hollis Easter, Hotline Coordinator for Reachout of St. Lawrence County, Inc. and suicide prevention educator.

And while we’re educating others about how to positively contribute to these discussions, let’s talk about that common saying: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” People who say this surely mean well and are only trying to help. Perhaps they think they’ve found that magic phrase that will speak to the person who they want to help and get that person to “snap out of it.” The truth is that most people who attempt suicide were not doing so as a permanent solution to a temporary problem; they wanted a permanent end to weeks, months, or years of personal torment and agony, often due to a medical condition. To say that it’s a temporary issue greatly minimalizes the deep pain and very real suffering they are going through, and likely have been going through for some time.

For more thoughts on why this turn of phrase should be avoided, check out another recent blog by Hollis titled

It is our hope that out of this loss, more people will be educated on the topics of suicide and mental illness. And while a flurry of media attention was placed on Mr. Williams’ death it’s important to note that on Monday an estimated 10 Canadians and 107 more Americans (108 including Mr. Williams) also died by suicide. Each of these deaths is tragic and leaves in its wake at least six people deeply devastated by their loss.

If you work in the suicide prevention industry: Thank you. Your patience, empathy, and compassion is a true gift and you’ve surely touched more lives than you may realize. Whether you speak directly with those contemplating suicide on a hotline, educate others on warning signs and intervention methods, or play one of the numerous other roles in the industry, the work you do saves lives.

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Funding for Golden Gate Bridge suicide prevention measures approved

Photo courtesy of Rich Niewiroski Jr.

In late June, officials approved a $76 million package to implement the long-debated suicide prevention nets on the Golden Gate bridge. It will still be at least three years before the nets are fully installed, but the funding approval clears a huge hurdle in the process.

Opponents of the net feel this is an inappropriate or even wasteful use of funds, stating that suicidal individuals will simply go elsewhere to take their lives or find another method. Those working in the suicide prevention industry know this isn’t true. By installing a barrier we remove access to means considered to be high lethality; methods for taking one’s life that allow very little room for intervention and possibility of survival. Bridges without a barrier allow people to take an impulsive action on their suicidal thoughts. Interviews with survivors and other studies have found that these barriers do not simply drive a person to another method. Instead it removes access to that single chosen highly lethal method and allows for more time for the person to get help.

We applaud this latest development in bringing a barrier to the Golden Gate bridge. To read more about the barrier and the reasons why these barriers work, check out these sources:

The Bridge Rail Foundation

Golden Gate barrier FAQ

Suicides Mounting, Golden Gate Looks to Add a Safety Net

Funding for Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier approved

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National Council on Problem Gambling Conference Recap

Donna and Eliisa recently attended the Pre-Conference symposium at the 28th National Council on Problem Gambling Conference in Orlando, FL at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. Members of our team attend conferences like this to ensure that we are on the cutting edge of the issues, challenges and experiences that helplines face.

The Florida Gambling Affiliate hosted the event. We’re happy to have just welcomed them to the iCarol family, as they went live on iCarol July 1st with phone, text and chat. One staff member said “iCarol has made my life much easier.” We love that feedback! It’s always great to hear that folks are finding their volunteer experience made easier or more enjoyable by using iCarol.

Brian Kongsvik is the Helpline Director and he did an excellent presentation on how his helpline works and the outcomes and follow up research of those that had contacted their helpline services. He reported that in his center, 79% indicated they had either stopped or decreased gambling since contacting their helpline services.

Eliisa Brian Donna

The breakout sessions gave us lots of great insight and presentations from a spectrum of sources. Donna from iCarol gave a presentation on chat and texting as well as the importance of integrated technologies. Anyone who has ever managed a helpline knows how easy it is to fall into the trap of using quick technology fixes to get by day by day. At the surface, you think it doesn’t cost you anything to do a quick update on a computer here and there, or utilize someone’s expertise to add a field into a form quickly, but soon you find yourself only able to do the report you need on one computer in the office and using a multi-step process utilizing many people every month just to do your routine monthly reports. The group was actively engaged, and for some the story of this vicious cycle hit a little too close to home! Integrated technologies like iCarol can help stop this cycle.

Donna Burrow presentation icarol NCPG conf 7-9-14

Bensinger, Dupont & Associates did a demo of iCarol’s live chat feature, which they use for several problem gambling live chat sites around the country. They noted they like the customizable programming to fit their unique needs.

Peer support networks and websites that people are accessing for help with problem gambling, other than calling, texting, and live chatting into helpline services, were discussed. Experts include GamTalk (Canada) and Gambling Therapy (UK). Both offer services run by licensed mental health professionals, with peer support from those in recovery from gambling addiction. These organizations offer a community (often anonymously) whereby they can build support communities around them.

The group also discussed the decrease of phone calls across the country to problem gambling helplines in the US. Among all the addictions, it was noted that those with a gambling addiction have the highest completed suicide rate among any other addiction. As such, those attending the pre-conference were fortunate to be given an opportunity to be trained in QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). Best practices in advertising were shared, with some noting that billboards near casinos work well.

Unfortunately some heavy rain moved the welcome reception sponsored by the Seminole Tribe of Florida indoors instead of outside by the gorgeous pool area, but it didn’t detract the crowd or the fun. We had such a great time meeting so many of you from the various NCPG affiliates and gambling helplines. And of course to the new friends we made if you want to learn more about iCarol we’d love to hear from you. Give us a call, or join an upcoming webinar to learn more about us and our features.

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Collaborate with partners: Load balance chats between organizations

We have an exciting new capability to share with iCarol Messaging subscribers. You can now allow a partner center, or multiple centers, to take chats for you from within their own iCarol system.

Collaborating w partnersThis new ability is transparent to visitors; they will not be aware of which center is taking the chat session. Visitors will still click on your familiar Chat Now button on your website and will see your prechat survey. But during times you designate, both you and your partner center will see those visitors come in to each of your messaging queues. As usual, safeguards are in place so two people don’t accidentally take the same chat. Both centers will have access to submitted call report forms and associated real-time statistics.

The possibilities here are endless. It’s ideal for handling overflow in a disaster situation. Watch your messaging queue grow shorter and become more manageable as your partner agency takes some of your chats. You can use this feature to handle after-hours messaging visitors. Because iCarol centers are found in multiple time zones, after-hours for you might be prime time for another center, and your partner could take all of your after-hours chats. This lets you expand your hours of service without trying to staff shifts during hard-to-staff hours. Want to get really fancy? You could even designate multiple centers to handle chats that come in to a central iCarol system, effectively creating a consortium of chat centers where no single center feels overburdened or underutilized. Every partner center sees all chats and takes chats when they can — it’s load balancing at its finest. Each partner center could have their own hours of service, too, and you’d get real-time statistics.

If you’re interested but don’t have a partner center in mind, feel free to post a message on the iCarol User Community on the Dashboard to find your perfect match. We can see it now: Single Crisis Center on East Coast seeks same on West Coast for meaningful after-hours relationship…looking for good listening skills, compassion, and ability to read between the lines. 🙂

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iCarol Helps You Go Green

At iCarol we’re delighted that our tools assist helplines in saving time and money, but we also care deeply about our impact on the environment. This Earth Day we’d like to highlight some of the ways that iCarol helps you go green.

1. Storing your volunteer and call data online with iCarol means reducing the need to print and store physical files, saving you paper and space

2. Online shift scheduling provides realtime updates so you don’t have to print or email new versions of your shift calendar with each change or picked up shift

3. Use the News feature to eliminate the need to print and post memos in the call center

4. iCarol gives your organization more options for workers to complete tasks at home which means fewer vehicles on the road

5. You can note in a resource record the bus line or transit options for a resource making it easier for someone to consider public transit instead of driving

6. Your Public Resource Directory allows the public to search, save, and map the resources they need so they can get what they want quickly and know where they are going

7. Specialized Exports create a Word or Excel file of just the resources you need and none of the ones you don’t

8. Automated Verification removes the need to mail or fax update requests

9. The electronic feedback loop in call reports eliminates the need for printed notes or other correspondence for feedback

10. When using a Call Report as an intake form that will be passed off to another agency, you can use the PDF feature to email the call report instead of printing it

How has iCarol helped you go green? Leave us a comment!

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5 Questions to ask during volunteer interviews

Vols-StaffThe volunteer screening and application process serves a dual purpose. It gives the helpline manager the opportunity to meet the volunteer and evaluate their ability to work on the helpline. For the volunteer it can be a discovery meeting where they learn more about the realities of helpline volunteerism. For both parties it’s a major step in deciding if the volunteer will move to the next stage.

Most helplines have a well-established list of questions to ask, but we’d like to offer these for your consideration…

1. Why do you think you’d be a good fit for our helpline? – The responses to this question let your volunteer share their qualities, but they’ll also reveal their preconceptions about what it’s like to work on a helpline. Portrayals in movies, television, or commonly held beliefs about crisis work tend to permeate volunteer expectations. Someone might answer, “I think I could give great advice.” This may open the door for you to talk about the reality of the work you do at the helpline. Perhaps you don’t give advice but rather listen to the caller, talk through their options, and let the caller ultimately decide what they’ll do. The volunteer will appreciate the chance to learn about what they can really expect when working on the helpline as opposed to what they’ve been imagining it’d be like.

2. Are you comfortable being observed and receiving feedback? – There’s a good chance your call center is a place where several people are working together at once, often times in close quarters. Your workers may routinely be right there observing their partner’s calls and giving peer feedback afterward. They can also expect to receive feedback from supervisors. New volunteers should be prepared for the work environment and know that feedback isn’t about someone else being critical of their work, but rather it’s intended to help them be successful and better serve the callers. For some, the prospect of regular observation and evaluation may be more than they were expecting.

3. Can you think on your feet? – Quick thinking is an essential quality for any helpline volunteer. The tone of a call can change in an instant and a skilled volunteer will pick up on hints at suicide and know how to proceed. You never know when a caller might say or ask something that takes you by surprise, and the ability to come back with a quick response will ensure the volunteer is always ready and in control of the situation. Not all volunteers will know how to hit the curveballs.

4. Are you a good detective? – You might not immediately think of investigative skills as being important to helpline work, but they’ll come in handy. You can’t just hear, you have to listen, and sometimes that means discovering more than what’s being revealed on the surface. In talking with a caller, sometimes it takes the right methods of reflection and questioning to get to the core of what’s going on for the caller and how the volunteer can help. Searching for the right referrals for a caller can also take some sleuthing and creativity especially when resources are limited or the caller isn’t eligible for services. Thinking outside the box and coming up with ideas and alternatives is a useful skill to have.

5. Do you need to see results to feel like you accomplished something? – New volunteers may be disappointed to find that after spending an hour talking a caller through a problem, that same person may call back in a month, still experiencing the same issue. And for callers who live with chronic and persistent mental illness, each day may come with a similar set of challenges, routines, and coping skills. Helpline workers aren’t always going to see huge changes and immediate positive turnarounds. In many cases, you never even know how it all turned out. The miracle success stories may be few and far between. This doesn’t mean, however, that the work you do isn’t helpful. Often in the helpline world, we need to re-frame our expectations and what we see as “success.” For some callers, just making it through the hour is successful. That hour spent on the line was an hour they didn’t feel as lonely, and it provided them with the boost they needed to get through the evening. If a volunteer needs to see more apparent success in order for them to feel like they had an impact, helpline work may leave them feeling burnt out and disappointed.

There’s a lot to consider when vetting a prospective volunteer. These questions may help both you and the volunteer further evaluate their desire, readiness, and natural abilities to determine whether they’ll end up joining your organization.

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