If you want to witness one of the most challenging yet also most rewarding aspects of helpline work, look to the major holidays. Centers that operate 24/7/365 experience the challenge of staying open all the time and being there for help seekers even on major religious and civic holidays. It can be tough to staff these days, and hard for staff and volunteers to spend a special holiday away from friends and family, but ultimately knowing that you helped someone in their time of need makes the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
So what kinds of calls (or chats or texts!) do such services receive on these major holidays?
Hello from a familiar voice
At any given hotline it’s fairly common to have a population of people both in and outside their communities for whom the helpline is a part of this person’s support network. These folks rely on the helpline as a support system for a number of reasons; limited social and familial relationships, daily coping with mental illness or disabilities, loneliness, or someone simply had a very successful interaction that keeps them coming back for support. Regardless of the reason, helplines should take this caller loyalty as a compliment and endorsement. And you’ll likely hear from these same people on the holidays as well, either to check-in and talk like they normally would, or often with an added “Thank you for being there.”
More than a handful of times I can recall answering the phone on a major holiday and the person on the other end was baffled by the sound of another human voice. “Oh…hello? Are you a real person?” or “Oh wow, you guys are there today!” Often they were prepared to have to leave a message or were just testing the line. It was nice to hear someone pleasantly surprised that they could speak to another person on a day where so much was going on and so many other services are closed, and it usually made me feel like I was in the right place that day.
I need a meal/toy for my child/counselor/shelter/etc.
These calls can be a challenge because for many situations, the help seeker isn’t going to be able to get help that day. As mentioned above, many services are closed and it can be tough to give a person referrals but know that their situation may remain in limbo until the holiday has passed. Thankfully in my experience there were at least a handful of non-profits or religious institutions who were open and providing things like hot meals on many holidays, and even those who had last-minute toy giveaways for families with children who hadn’t signed up for such programs in advance. And, even when the referred service isn’t open, you’re able to at least provide empathy and hope which can make a world of difference.
Crises don’t take a day off
For many people, holidays are more stressful than they are delightful, and actually present a recipe for crisis. Tensions that were simmering below the surface can easily rise up when a person is under stress. And while for most people family gatherings are a happy occasion, for others these get-togethers can easily result in outbursts or even violence. Of course this can happen in a group setting or to someone who is alone. After all, a holiday is just another day, presenting all the same hardships as the day before. There is nothing special about a holiday that can create a foolproof barrier against a crisis or suicidal thoughts — making it all the more critical that someone be available to help talk things through or intervene in some way.
I want to help
Holidays that put a focus on gratitude and generosity will bring out the best in people. For many, the spirit of giving is coursing through them so much that they’re looking for a last minute opportunity to volunteer somewhere so they can give back to others in need. Unfortunately for these generous people, most organizations have long since filled their need for volunteers on the actual holiday, plus there are application processes and/or training that make it infeasible to accept these spur of the moment offers of volunteerism. Luckily these folks are usually willing to accept referrals to the many organizations in their area that need volunteers year ’round, not just on the holidays, and would hopefully follow through with their plan to help after going through the proper processes.
Holidays are a painful reminder
For many people the holiday itself can be a cause of negative feelings, and they need someone to vent to. Perhaps they have a particularly bad memory associated with the day or time of year, and pain surfaces as a result. This may be a memory from long ago or something that happened much more recently, but anniversaries tend to make us recall these past events and relive the emotions experienced, good or bad. Some people are grieving a lost loved one, and holidays remind them of the empty seat at the table. For others, seeing people enjoying get-togethers with family and friends shines a painful spotlight on their own loneliness or broken relationships. Being the person that was there for them when they needed it most can be very rewarding.
Perhaps the most heartwarming interaction you can have is with the person who calls just to say “Thanks.” Sometimes they’re people who have used your service in the past. Or, it may just be a person who finds out you’re there on a major holiday and recognizes that by sacrificing some of your time, you’re making a positive impact on others. A simple “Thank you” goes such a long way.
During the holidays we know many of you out there will be spending some time apart from your families as you work to serve your communities. On behalf of all of us here at iCarol, thank you for all you do and we wish you a happy holiday season and bright New Year!
Advocating for the needs of your organization and the clients you serve is a huge component of the overall survival and success of your agency. Some may find the prospect of lobbying elected officials intimidating and confusing, but it’s actually not as complex or scary as it may seem!
We invite you to attend a webinar on this topic on Tuesday, December 11th at 2pm EST. Sara Sedlacek from The Crisis Center of Johnson County will present information that takes the mystery and intimidation out of the advocacy process, helping you get the ear and support of the local, state, and federal officials elected to represent you and the people who benefit from your services.
With legislative sessions beginning in January, now is the time to learn more about how to advocate for your organization.
Although at least one study found it occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, financial abuse is one of the least discussed aspects of unhealthy and abusive relationships between intimate partners. Financial abuse happens when the perpetrator of abuse controls the abused partner’s access to financial resources. This could include stealing money or creating an environment where the abused partner is unable or not allowed to work, leaving them financially dependent upon their abuser. Often, people in such situations won’t have complete access to their funds, and if they do have any access their use of financial resources is closely watched and they are expected to provide a detailed account of expenditures. This is another way for an abusive partner to maintain control and power over the person they are abusing. This also happens to be a common method of keeping the victim/survivor trapped in the relationship, as research shows that financial insecurity is a top reason survivors stay with or return to abusive partners. The effects and consequences of financial abuse can follow a survivor long after they have broken free of the relationship and affect their ability to regain financial stability.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) in partnership with the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), provides a free webinar series to assist survivors with financial education. The six webinars in the series focus on financial education and are aimed at both the survivors of domestic violence and those who serve them.
To learn more about the series and to watch the free webinars, visit the NCADV website.
CharityVillage, an online community dedicated to knowledge, training, and collaboration for non-profit organizations in Canada, will hold a free webinar on Thursday, December 6th from 1-2pm EST.
From the CharityVillage website:
Fundraising in small organizations can be crazy-making. It can be demoralizing to hear “XYZ large organization just hosted a million dollar gala. I think we should try host a gala too”. Or maybe it’s the dreaded “I’ve never heard of your organization”. It’s tough to be a small nonprofit where it feels like the large ones have all the advantages. How can you compete?
Add to that the many hats you wear and the immense time pressures. Who can fit fundraising in? There is never enough time in the day to do what we want to accomplish…
For more information on this free webinar, and to register, visit the CharityVillage website.
Today is Giving Tuesday and we know many of you have some great campaigns in the works to generate awareness about your organization, which will hopefully result in an influx of financial support and donations.
Let iCarol help you boost the signal on your Giving Tuesday tweets. Here’s how you can help us retweet you and generate more views for your tweets:
- Follow us on Twitter
- We’ll follow you back
- Be sure to use the official #GivingTuesday hashtag in your tweets
- Throughout the day we’ll retweet you to our followers
Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to get the word out about your organization and get noticed during this season of charitable giving. We’re looking forward to reading all your great tweets sharing information about the valuable work of your organizations and wish you all lots of success generating interest, awareness, and monetary support for your agency!
Want to have your Giving Tuesday story shared on the iCarol blog? Email me for more information.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, recognized each year on November 20th, honors the memory of transgender people lost to fatal violence and homicide. According to data provided by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 22 transgender people were killed in acts of violence thus far in 2018. HRC notes that this is an estimation likely lower than the actual number of lives lost, because of the numerous difficulties involved in tracking these crimes. Reasons include the fact that crimes against transgender people are often underreported and people can be misgendered by the media, law enforcement, or even their own families when these crimes are reported.
Often times these tragedies can be directly linked back to anti-trans prejudice. And, even in cases where this direct connection cannot be made, it is often clear that the victim’s transgender identity in some way made them more at risk of being a victim of crime. For example, transgender people are much more likely to become homeless than people who are not transgender, and homelessness puts a person at a much higher risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a time to pause and honor each person, tell their story, and remember them. But scholar Sarah Lamble notes in Retelling Racialized Violence, Remaking White Innocence: The Politics of Interlocking Oppressions in Transgender Day of Remembrance:
None of us are innocent. We must envision practices of remembrance that situate our own positions within structures of power that authorize violence in the first place. Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead — we must transform the practices of the living.
It’s important to have discussions about violence against transgender people and talk about how we might be complicit in the circumstances of their deaths. How can we change that? What can we do to bring this number down to the only statistic that is acceptable — zero. Greater education about trans people and the issues they face is one important factor. Visibility and representation is another. As a society we can look at what programs and services, or legislation, can be enacted to better serve and protect transgender individuals. Even better, how do we build a more inclusive society where trans people are recognized as human beings worthy of equality and no longer seen as “other?” It’s only when all that happens that we may see anti-trans prejudice begin to decline, and violence against transgender people along with it.
You can read more about Transgender Day of Remembrance, find a local event or candlelight vigil, gather resources on trans issues, and learn what action you can take from the following places:
According to the latest available data, over 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, leaving hundreds of thousands of suicide loss survivors to deal with complex grief and emotional pain in the wake of their loved one’s death. Researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Department of Psychiatry have launched the Survive Together study with the goal of better understanding the thoughts, feelings and brain-responses that occur during acute grieving which promote long-term growth and wellness. The knowledge gained from the study will serve as the basis for a treatment strategy aimed at helping people grow and thrive following their loss.
Researchers are inviting those who have lost a loved one to suicide in the last 5 months to participate in this study. You do not have to live in the New York City area to contribute. For more information and to contact researchers, please see Dr. Noam Schneck’s blog post about the study.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and it’s a day every single person can and should participate in. Every person should be aware of the state of their own mental health, be able to recognize the signs that they are stressed or ill, and know what to do when that happens. And while this is important regardless of one’s age, this year the World Health Organization is placing a focus on child and adolescent mental health.
Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated until many years later or often not at all. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Depression and eating disorders are top concerns for youth, as is alcohol and drug use that can lead to unsafe behavior. Even under the best circumstances, adolescence and young adulthood are challenging times. Not only do youth experience physical, hormonal, and emotional changes that can be uncomfortable and confusing, but youth are also dealing with academic and societal expectations and challenges. Young adults are facing major life changes such as choosing how to begin their futures, starting university or their first jobs and beginning to navigate adulthood when they may very much still feel like a child. While all this is exciting, it’s also stressful. And, if these pressures aren’t managed well with healthy coping strategies, mental health conditions can and do develop. Besides all the expected challenges of adolescence, we mustn’t forget the number of youth worldwide living in areas affected by war, natural disaster, health epidemics, conflict, and humanitarian emergencies. Young people living in situations such as these are particularly vulnerable to mental distress and illness.
Thankfully, there is a growing focus on prevention and building resilience that could make a difference in the lifelong mental health of youth everywhere. The first step is greater awareness and understanding of mental health as a part of overall health and wellbeing, and knowing the first symptoms of mental illness. The removal of stigma associated with mental illness, and access to proper care are also a vital part of building a more mentally healthy world. And of course, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and other adults who interact with youth have a role to play in helping children build life skills that help them cope with challenges in healthy and constructive ways so that serious mental health conditions are less likely to become an issue.
WHO encourages governments worldwide to invest in the social, health and education sectors and support comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programs for the mental health of young people. In particular, programs that raise awareness among adolescents and young adults of ways to look after their mental health and programs that help peers, parents and teachers know how to support their friends, children and students.
Resources, fact sheets, shareable graphics and more can be found on the World Health Organization’s website.
The first full week in October is recognized as Mental Illness Awareness Week, and both Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are making stigma their topic to focus on for the week.
NAMI has launched CureStigma.org. The site provides a quiz that helps visitors assess their own stigma towards mental illness, and provides stories of hope and other resources.
Mental Health America similarly hopes to turn the focus on reducing the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. Their site encourages everyone to take a mental health screening and share the results with others to show that checking up on your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and that it’s okay not to be okay. They also encourage social media shares using #ThingsPeopleSaidAboutMyMentalIllness to spread awareness of the kinds of comments about mental illness that are hurtful.
While things are getting better, stigma remains a barrier standing in the way of more healthy discussions and solutions surrounding mental health. With 1 in 5 Americans affected by a mental health condition, stigma creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.
For more information on Mental Illness Awareness Week, including graphics and suggested social media posts your organization can share, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/MIAW and https://www.nami.org/miaw.
Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: You, and many of your volunteers and staff, agree that you should add new communication channels like live chat or texting to your not-for-profit’s service offerings. But, there’s one big problem—your CEO, Board of Directors, or funders aren’t yet convinced.
Perhaps they see your current call volume is healthy or growing, and they mistakenly feel this is a sign that communication by voice call is sufficient, just as in demand as ever, and your community doesn’t need or want these new channels. On the surface that takeaway is understandable, but it’s also wrong.
Current call volume is a poor indicator of whether or not people need support through texting/SMS and live chat. Here’s why: If voice calling is the only option to reach you, and you provide needed services over the phone, of course the calls will be there. It’s not about how many people are calling. It’s about who’s not calling.
When you only provide emotional support, information and referral, and crisis intervention over the phone, you’re not serving the members of your community who need your services but won’t—or can’t—use the phone to access them.
We recently asked an iCarol user how she convinced her board to fund her live chat and texting service, and she said, “I just asked them, ‘Have you ever met a teenager?’” Her point being that teens simply don’t call hotlines, at least not in significant numbers. In fact, this is one area where our clients do report declines in call volume. Many of the organizations we serve report that people under age 25 are their smallest represented demographic. Of course, we know youth aren’t free of interpersonal crisis, financial troubles, food insecurity, abuse, suicide ideation, and any number of serious issues. In fact, we know that for many of these issues, youth are desperately in need of outreach and support. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death during adolescence through young adulthood. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence—almost triple the national average, according to a study by the US Department of Justice. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, of the 1 in 5 people living with a mental health condition, half developed the condition by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
Taking that first step to ask for help or advice is tough for anyone. But for teens, expecting that first contact to come in the form of a phone call is even harder. People under 25 are digital natives, meaning they grew up with communication technology like live chat, texting, social media, and other chat apps. Use of these mediums comes naturally to them while voice calling may feel more awkward and less convenient, unnatural even. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center on teens, technology, and friendships found that teens reserve phone calls for their closest friends, while they prefer building new friendships over text messaging. It takes a level of established trust and familiarity for them to talk over the phone with someone. So, think of your helpline as a new friend. It’s less likely that a young person will dial the phone to talk about a problem or sensitive issue with you, but they may be willing to text you or chat with you.
Privacy and Anonymity
Unfortunately, no matter how common and normal someone’s personal struggle may be, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. There is an enormous effort across many different industries—suicide prevention, mental health, intimate partner or sexual violence to name a few—focused on removing the stigma and societal judgment associated with these issues. While those efforts are certainly helping, shame remains a barrier to getting help for many people in need of assistance. They may have a tough time saying aloud what they’re going through. They may be afraid that someone will overhear the conversation. Think of a LGBTQIA teen who is working through their identity and struggling with how or when to come out to friends or family. They may be very averse to making a phone call that could easily be overheard by parents, siblings, or friends. Or, consider a young woman who has recently been raped or sexually assaulted by someone she knew and thought she could trust. She could be feeling shocked, betrayed, and may even be blaming herself. In these and other scenarios, the person is likely feeling scared and vulnerable, and being able to type about it privately, silently, and anonymously with a caring and confidential source may be much more appealing than making a call.
Sometimes the need for silent communication isn’t so much about preference as it is about self-preservation. Voice communication could actually prove dangerous in certain situations. A few years ago there was a very powerful ad shown during the Superbowl by the group NO MORE. The ad featured shots of the interior of a home in disarray, with items knocked over and strewn on the floor. As we see these visuals we hear a recorded 9-1-1 call between a woman and an operator, though oddly the woman is trying to order a pizza. At first confused and taken aback, the 9-1-1 operator realizes that the woman’s “pizza” call is a ploy to foil an abusive partner because she is unable to call out for help but needs an officer to visit the home. You can watch the ad here.
The ad reminds us of the importance of silent communication for the purposes of safety in certain scenarios, and even 9-1-1 and other emergency centers are responding by text-enabling their services. Not all situations are as dire as the one shown in the ad where there is an active, life-threatening attack. While some may need a silent way to request active rescue, others may need to reach out to discretely chat or exchange SMS messages about their abuse to receive emotional support and empowerment without their abuser overhearing, which could escalate the situation and cause harm.
When providing a community service, it’s important to be inclusive and mindful of the needs of different groups and cultures and mitigate potential access barriers. The Deaf community and people with disabilities in particular can become isolated from essential services when their needs aren’t accommodated.
Offering assistance through live chat and texting can ease the path for people who are disabled or deaf. When someone has a disability affecting their speech in some way, verbal communication can not only be less therapeutic, but it can add frustration to their situation. However, they may find written communication a viable alternative. And, while there are interpretation services such as video relay available to the Deaf community, many would prefer to communicate directly with a helpline counselor without a third party present, especially when discussing sensitive or private issues. Written communication directly between the deaf person and an organization’s volunteer or staff member may help them feel more connected with the agency and, by extension, any plans, referrals, or problem-solving strategies they arrived at with the specialist’s help.
Adding new communication channels to your service offerings requires a culture shift and open mind among leadership, program managers, and frontline staff alike. While there are some who need convincing, we hope by now the evidence is clear: Use of communication channels like chat or SMS/texting is not a passing fad. They have become widely adopted, permanent fixtures in our society. Offering these service alternatives is not just smart business practice needed to remain relevant, but a vital form of outreach to populations that find themselves cut off from needed services only offered on traditional channels.