Adding on new communications channels people can use to reach your helpline is a critical element of providing effective service to your community in the 21st century. But, while the addition of such contact methods is important, it brings with it a unique set of challenges that crisis centers must be ready to address. Online emotional support, particularly Live Chat, can be extremely anonymous. In fact, that’s part of the appeal for users — the ability to confide in someone without revealing one’s face, voice, and identity sets exactly the stage that many people prefer or need in order to truly open up and reach out for help. In instances where emergency rescue might be needed for a person in imminent danger, the same exciting technology that allows so many in need to access help in the way they prefer can create anxiety and headaches for crisis workers who want to help.
Join us for our next webinar where we’ll delve into the topic of active intervention in the online space, and how this aspect of crisis intervention continues to evolve.
When: Thursday, January 25, 2018 Time: 2:00pm Eastern
Director of Crisis Intervention Services
The Crisis Center of Johnson County
Beau has been part of the crisis intervention/suicide prevention field since 2002, when he started volunteering at his local crisis line. Subsequent experience being a flood recovery outreach counselor after the devastation of 2008 and working with the homeless population after that led him to a staff position with The Crisis Center of Johnson County, where he currently directs crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. He is a current board member for Contact USA, an accrediting body for crisis centers across the United States, and is part of the American Association of Suicidology’s Strategic Media Response Task Force. He has been involved in panel discussions on the intersection of video games and suicide at SXSW and other conferences, and has presented on how tech trends have affected and will continue to affect crisis intervention services.
The skills and natural abilities that make us great listeners, social workers, and mental health advocates don’t always lend themselves to making us naturally at ease in management roles. Yet, at the heart of every thriving behavioral health organization is a strong and well-functioning team, and these teams often do not exist without adaptive leadership and effective management. As the demands on managers increase and access to resources becomes more elusive, the team’s ability to deliver on its performance indicators becomes even more crucial to program success.
Simply put — you can’t adequately deliver services, maintain funding for your program, and ensure quality performance, enthusiasm and job satisfaction among your staff without effective managers.
We hope you can join us for our next webinar on this topic, scheduled for January 9, 2018 at 1pm EST:
Practicing Effective Management presented by Sarah Bowman and Travis Atkinson of TBD Solutions.
What You’ll Learn:
In this webinar, we’ll provide tangible keys to effective management through strong working relationships, performance communication, delegation, and professional growth. We expect that by joining us you will:
Learn the four critical behaviors of effective managers: knowing your people, communicating about performance, pushing work down, and growing your people.
Understand benefits and challenges of managing people in a mission-driven organization.
Learn how to proactively address the most common challenges faced by managers, including burnout, turnover, poor communication, and lack of accountability.
Space in this free webinar is limited! Click here to register.
Meet Our Presenters:
Sarah Bowman, Associate Consultant, TBD Solutions
Sarah has infused the behavioral health system with infectious energy and a commitment to excellence for over 15 years. Her strong leadership, utilization of data-driven decision making, and focus on outcomes measurement has helped enhance a vast array of behavioral health programs and services. She is a dynamic presenter and trainer, with an excellent track record for building high performing, strengths-based teams.
Travis has served as a manager and educator for over a decade. A consummate student of management and leadership, Travis has supervised diverse teams and maintains a reputation for getting lasting results and spurring innovation. He has trained hundreds of managers across the Midwest.
The end of a year is typically a time for introspection as we look back on what we’ve accomplished and begin to plan for the future. This past year has certainly been challenging for a variety of reasons, but you, our clients, have been a consistent source of inspiration throughout it all. You have repeatedly stepped in to assist the most vulnerable in their time of greatest need. Whether it was responding to those at risk during and after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, helping survivors in the aftermath of a violent attack and addressing the surge in awareness and discussion around those topics, assisting those struggling in their day-to-day environment, or handling countless other problems and requests, you have stepped up to make a positive difference in the world.
They say there’s strength in numbers, and you demonstrated it this year with creative partnerships to aid each other in your respective missions. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite just two examples: first, a California 211 who on very short notice agreed to back up a Florida crisis center as Irma grew close, utilizing iCarol’s ability to share contact forms and resource data. The plan ensured help seekers would still have someone to assist them even as the Florida center lost its power and telephone service. The California 211 logged over 1,100 call reports during that crisis.
In another powerful example of strength in numbers, a group of crisis centers across Canada banded together to form the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), agreeing on a common process and technology standard in order to provide a seamless network of assistance to those in crisis. The vision of a unified national service was first championed by Karen Letofsky, and began providing service in late November of this year. CSPS uses iCarol for logging contacts, chat and texting. Their very first interaction, a chat, resulted in an active rescue of a teenager. Countless other stories could be told of the valuable services you’ve all performed throughout this year, and of the powerful network you’ve built to assist each other in times of need.
At iCarol we have always strived to provide the best possible software and service we could to empower you further. After listening closely to your feedback last year, in 2017 we focused most strongly on overall service stability, product quality and in the addition of critical functionality to iCarol. We also wanted to ensure we built in additional feedback loops from you to help us continue to improve. So, you might ask, how have we done?
I’m pleased to say that for 2017 thus far, we’ve achieved our best “up time” in the past 10 years, exceeding 99.972% system availability, per our third-party monitoring service. To put 99.972% in context, it averages out to only 24.2 seconds of down time per day, or a total of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 15.9 seconds for the entire year. We’re feeling especially good about the percentage given that this year our customers logged over 10 million contact forms in iCarol, doubling the number of forms entered just 3 years ago. Your need for access to iCarol stretches ‘round the clock, and our relatively small company has delivered this year with up times comparable to industry giants like Salesforce and Amazon, ensuring you have access to your systems as you provide vital services.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve product quality. iCarol contains almost 300,000 lines of code, which implies a significant amount of work to continually test its feature functionality. In late 2016 and throughout 2017, we’ve been investing in automated testing as a way to ensure more ongoing, consistent testing. To date we’ve created 220 automated test cases, which will be kicked off nightly as the codebase is updated with new bug fixes or features. Our plan is to grow the number of automated cases to cover more and more of iCarol, thereby relying a little less on manual testing, which can be subject to human error. The more product defects we can capture before a release, the better iCarol will perform for you. This will also help us to speed up our release cycle in 2018, releasing an update on average every two weeks throughout the year, delivering feature functionality to you more quickly. As always, check the iCarol Dashboard for news on upcoming releases and any features it may contain.
The iCarol Ideas Portal was launched this February as a more formal feedback loop for you to suggest improvements, and to vote on Ideas of fellow customers. It also enables the ability for Q&A, allowing our Product Management team to gather more detailed information about selected Ideas. We’re thrilled that you’ve jumped in and begun logging your Ideas, enabling us to see trends in your voting. We’ve implemented multiple Ideas this year, and plan to add more in 2018.
In 2017, 2,769 code changes were made to iCarol, which translates into over 790 features and bug fixes added throughout the year, as we strove to improve iCarol per your feedback. Some of the most notable enhancements this year included a new release of Messaging, which incorporated the text or chat conversation into the call report form, the massive Field Visibility enhancement for resource database managers, and an updated Public Resource Directory 2.0, with its configurable Guided Search, among other features.
Smaller enhancements can also provide a lot of value for our clients, as you reminded us through your suggestions on the Ideas Portal. These included enabling a custom date range for the Summary Report, receiving an email notification when a resource is flagged for review, requesting email outcomes from an Automated Verification campaign, receiving notifications for bounced email from an Automate Verification campaign, and initiating an Automated Verification request when editing a resource record.
Finally, we’ve also begun formalizing focus groups on particular areas of functionality we’d like to improve. If you are a “Power User” of a particular area of iCarol, meaning you use it heavily, and have strong opinions on how it could be improved, we’d love to hear from you so that we can add you into a focus group. Each group will be small, but will hone in on specialized functionality so that we can obtain very detailed feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the special requirements and limitations you run into in your environment. As I hope I’ve conveyed throughout this note, your voice and expertise is a valued part of our business, especially as part of our product management process.
All in all, it’s been quite a year. We hope you’ve weathered the storm well in both your personal and professional life, and we wish everyone a safe, secure and happy new year. Everyone at iCarol continuously marvels at the fine work you do and your life-changing and life-saving contributions to our world, and we’re excited to see your continued positive influence in the new year. We remain honored to serve you, our clients, and look forward to another year of service and giving in 2018 and beyond.
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 helplines 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.
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 at your helplines serving 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!
Guest Blogger Adam Cook started AddictionHub.org after losing a friend to substance abuse and suicide. Mr. Cook’s mission is to provide people struggling with substance abuse with resources to help them recover. He founded Addiction Hub, which locates and catalogs addiction resources.
Guest blogger views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of CharityLogic and iCarol
Recovering from addiction is a long-term process. In fact, it’s a lifelong struggle. To help recovering addicts remain sober, treatment professionals often encourage them to spend time with friends and family. Loved ones can be an important source of emotional and moral support at a time when help is most needed. But there are times when even the most dedicated family member can be a distraction without realizing it. As fun and reassuring as get-togethers can be, addiction may assert itself at any time. One well-meaning but forgetful relative hanging around an open bar can easily lead to a relapse that undoes months of progress.
People with substance abuse problems can enjoy the fun and fellowship of family gatherings just as they always have, even in the early stages of sobriety. But it’s important to observe a few rules and to understand the challenges and stresses that are likely to arise, especially during the holidays.
Think it through
As we all know, family parties and social events tend to generate their own unique kinds of stress, so be certain that you’re doing everything you can to help your guest handle it from a sobriety standpoint. One good strategy is to rate the situation based on risk level. If you know it’s likely to be a high-risk scenario for a recovering addict, consider limiting the amount of alcohol that’ll be served. Or you can plan to shorten the evening a bit and reduce the likelihood that your guest might give in to temptation. If it’s feasible, consider throwing a non-alcoholic party.
If you’re throwing a holiday shindig, make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic options on your drink list. Include drinks like sparkling water and an array of soft drinks, and plenty of finger foods. Remember that people in the early stages of sobriety need to watch out for things that might trigger a relapse. Try to put yourself in their shoes and make it easy as possible for them to avoid exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
The buddy system
Do you know someone who doesn’t smoke, drink or do drugs? If so, invite them to your party so your newly recovered family member won’t feel so alone and uncomfortable. It’s a positive distraction, and provides a ready-made excuse to steer clear of the action around the bar and people who are just there to tie one on. Remember, peer support is essential for someone going through the early stages of sobriety.
If you have limited space or you’re expecting a lot of guests, remember that a recovering addict is very vulnerable to peer pressure and needs an easy means of escaping the crowd. Provide ready access to open areas such as a patio or lawn or a quieter space in the house; they’re great refuges when things get a little too claustrophobic.
Learn your lines
Take a few minutes to think through how you’ll respond if a boozy great uncle shoves a scotch and soda at a relative who’s newly sober. Knowing how you’ll respond can help smooth over a potentially awkward situation. It’s not necessary to concoct a world-class fable, just have something in mind that’ll help your guest steer clear of embarrassment.
Keep it kid-friendly
You can also help young people avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs by establishing secure, “adults-only” areas if you’re having a party. This way, you’ll avoid creating opportunities for any kids and teens who might be hanging around to experiment with alcohol and, possibly, develop substance abuse issues later in life.
There’s no reason that people who live with substance abuse problems can’t enjoy a good time when friends and family get together. Making sure they do just takes a little extra consideration and effort.
The Frank Capra Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” tops many lists for holiday viewing, and it’s already making the rounds on TV channels everywhere (check your local listings!). But have you ever stopped and thought about how this popular and enduring holiday program centers around the topic of one man’s suicide plan? Most people view the film casually and for them the suicide aspect of the story may take a backseat to the other major themes. For anyone working in the suicide prevention or crisis industry though, it’s hard not to view the film from that unique perspective.
13 thoughts of crisis workers when watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”
It bothers you that the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime
You’re envious of the detailed and factual background Clarence has on George, and think of how helpful this would be when working with your clients
You know of a dozen people you’ve spoken to this month who are in way worse circumstances than George, but knowing how complex and unique suicide can be for each person you’d never judge George for feeling how he does
You can list all the warning signs that George is giving, and yell at the other characters for not picking up on them
Even better, you wish someone would talk to George about his behavior and ask him directly if he was thinking of suicide
You cheer on Mary when she calls a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and doesn’t keep his behavior a secret. Mary – 1 Stigma and Shame – 0
George’s story reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family
You note the high lethality of George’s plan for suicide
And think of how more bridges need suicide barriers for this very reason
It angers you when Clarence tells George he “shouldn’t say such things” when George discusses suicide, effectively shutting him down and judging him rather than listening to why he feels this way.
You’re relieved when George finds his reasons for living
You’re thankful for the happy ending, but you know that it’s rarely wrapped up so easily
You’re reminded of why you do the work you do
Have you had any of these thoughts while watching this classic film? Got any other thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment!
And while you may not have wings, we know the countless individuals touched by your caring voices consider you all guardian angels. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to saving lives, during the holidays and all year ’round.
As the end of 2017 approaches, we want to take the opportunity to provide some housekeeping tasks for you to review. We know how busy you are every day of the year, and even if you already have processes in place for these tasks, getting them done might fall to the bottom of your to-do list sometimes. Now is a good time to review these housekeeping tasks to help you get the most out of your iCarol system, while you’re getting ready for another exciting year!
Review Draft Call Reports
It’s a good idea to designate a user with appropriate permissions to review all call reports in DRAFT and ensure they’re either submitted or deleted by the end of the year. This is important because any call reports in draft mode aren’t included in Statistics or Data Exports reports, so you could be missing import reporting data if forms documenting completed calls are left in draft mode. And erroneous drafts can clutter up your draft list, making it harder for your staff to see the drafts that actually need to be reviewed and completed. To learn more about draft call reports, read this related help article.
Set Obsolete Call Report Form Custom Fields To “Inactive” Status
The information you need to collect on your Call Report Forms may periodically change. For example, perhaps a project your helpline participates in ends, and you no longer need to collect that piece of data. It helps keep your forms tidy, and reduces time spent by your volunteers, if these unnecessary fields are hidden from the form entirely. This cleanup can be done at any time, but the end of the year is a perfect time to review the relevancy of your form’s fields. To learn more, read this related help article.
Disable Inactive Custom Fields in Call Report Forms from Appearing in Statistics Call Content Filters
If you’ve made changes to your call report forms, and set any custom fields to ‘inactive’ because they were no longer being used, now is a good time to review those inactive custom fields, and determine if the setting to ‘Use as a filter in Statistics’ should be disabled. If you no longer need to run reports on this information, it may help to have that filter removed from the list entirely. This way, your reporting staff will only see applicable filters when applying them to reports, saving them time as they browse through the list of filters. To learn more, read this related help article.
Disable Vols-Staff from Accessing iCarol
It’s likely you had users leave your organization throughout the past year for any number of reasons. Even if you have a process in place already for what to do when users leave your organization, now is a good time to review your Vols-Staff profiles to ensure you’ve disabled users from accessing iCarol, when appropriate. This not only keeps them from accessing data they are no longer authorized to have, but also ensures they won’t be called or emailed by your active volunteers for help covering a shift. To learn more, read this related help article.
Review Organization Contacts
During the year your designated Billing or Support Contacts may have left your organization, but you forgot to update your iCarol system accordingly with this information. To avoid unpaid invoices or delays in sending Support requests, it’s good to occasionally make sure the proper contacts are assigned to these roles. Read this help article to learn more about your organization’s designated contacts, and how and why to keep them up to date.
It’s best practice to periodically create a backup file of your Resources, in case you need to access them offline for any reason. These files can then be especially helpful if your organization experiences problems with internet connection, but you are still able to handle interactions (i.e. take phone calls, or handle walk-in requests) and provide referrals. You can create this backup file using our standard Resources Data Export tool, or even better, use the Specialized Exports of Resources to Word/Excel feature if your organization is subscribed to it, which provides even more flexibility in how these exports are presented and organized. Use the links above to read the related help articles to learn more about each tool to create a backup of your Resources.
Backup Call Report Forms
It’s also a good idea to create an offline, back-up copy of your call report forms for your users to access in case your organization ever experiences problems with internet connection. Depending on the complexity of your call report forms, you may wish to simply save a printable version of your call report forms for your users to print out, or for more complex call report forms you may wish to transpose your call report forms into an editable document so your users can fill out the form on the computer. Some of our users even create paper copies for use in the event of a full power outage. Then, once internet connection is re-established, you should have a process in place to enter the data into iCarol so the interactions are included in statistical reporting.
It’s likely your organization already has processes in place to complete most of these tasks throughout the year. But if you don’t, now might be a good time to consider if you want to develop any processes for the new year to help you stay on track with completing these tasks on a regular basis so you’re optimizing your iCarol system.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, recognized each year on November 20th, honors the memory of transgender people lost to fatal violence and homicide. According to tracking by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), at least 23 transgender people were killed in acts of violence in 2016. Of those lost in 2016, 95% were transgender people of color, and 85% were trans women. HRC admits that their estimation of 23 lives lost is unreliable and likely lower than the actual number, because of the numerous difficulties involved in tracking these crimes. Reasons include the fact that crimes against transgender people are often underreported and gender identities may be misidentified by the media or law enforcement.
And sadly, so far in 2017 HRC estimates that 25 transgender people have already been lost to acts of violence. Often their deaths 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.
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:
On International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, those who have lost a loved one to suicide come together for the purpose of healing, understanding, and helping one another cope.
If you’re interested in learning more or providing information to your clients, there are a number of organizations offering information, resources, and events in recognition of Survivors of Suicide Loss Day: