I distinctly remember the first time I learned the truth about a common myth related to suicide. It was nearly 14 years ago, and I was sitting with my fellow would-be hotline volunteers in our training class, ready to tackle the lesson we were all most nervous about: Suicide. We filled out a pre-test, designed to gauge our base knowledge about the topic, and see what sorts of preconceptions we were bringing with us to our volunteer experience. The true or false quiz seemed simple enough to me at the time, a college junior who had been through her share of advanced psychology classes and was about a year from graduation, in spite of those classes having provided very little mention of suicide. I arrived at one that gave me pause. “True or False: The suicide rate increases around the holidays.”
I was a little stumped. “Gosh…I feel like I hear a lot about suicide during the holiday season,” I thought to myself. “And I know I’ve heard that statistic…somewhere. And hey, what time of year is more stressful for people than that whole period between Thanksgiving and the New Year? It makes sense. True.” My pencil checked the box.
Well (spoiler alert!) I was wrong. We all listened intently to the correct answers and found that much of what we thought was true about suicide was, in fact, false. And I remember feeling almost angry about this, like why was this whole topic so taboo, so secretive, that complete fallacies could be out there in the universe parading around as truths all these years. But that particular myth about the holidays was really stuck in my craw.
So stuck, in fact, that it’s become a running joke between me and my husband because he’s been witness to my missionary-like commitment to setting the record straight. I yell at the TV when I see a show reinforcing the myth. We’d be at a party and someone would find out where I worked and inevitably I’d get lots of questions about suicide, mental health, and other topics. Without a doubt someone would ask if it’s true, or make a comment about how more suicides happen around the holidays. My eyes would widen (another potential convert to help spread my gospel of truth!) as I got to explain (my husband might prefer the term “lecture”) that this was false, and that December can actually be a month where there are fewer suicides, but that springtime does seem to be a time where we lose more people to suicide than other times of year.
In addition to the fact that falsehoods in general just bug me, something about this one would set me over the edge, and I think it’s because I feel it’s actually a bit dangerous to have myths such as this one circulating.
Look, I’m glad that there are articles about suicide this time of year, any time of year for that matter, but too many of them use the myth as a means to drive traffic to their site or increase readership without clearly and categorically setting the record straight that there’s really no relationship between suicide and the holiday season. They also tend to leave out important information about prevention, according to a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
What ends up happening is that people continue to feel there is a relationship (look at all these articles that come out about suicide in December, it must be true!) and I think, from that, two things happen.
First, attention to the topic of suicide is heightened at a time of year when incidents are typically at their lowest. Again, awareness is a good thing anytime, but where are all these articles during the rest of the year, particularly in springtime through summer when the incidents of suicide actually do increase? We end up with an abundance of articles and material when the myth creates a demand for content yet incidents are at their lowest, and a lack of attention when they’re at their highest in the spring and the public’s heightened awareness and knowledge of prevention methods could especially be put to good use.
Second, I think the perpetration of this myth promotes a sort of romanticism of, or glamorizes the idea of a holiday suicide. While you cannot put the thought of suicide in someone’s head by simply talking about it (another myth we frequently try to squash), irresponsible reporting of suicide in the media can contribute to the contagion phenomenon, which is very real. This idea that the holidays are a “good” time or a normal time to complete one’s suicide plan, or that a person “should” feel extra depressed, lonely, and susceptible to their thoughts of suicide this time of year can put someone already contemplating suicide in an especially vulnerable place.
It’s true that the holidays can be a stressful time of year. For someone who is already lonely, depressed, or otherwise suffering it can be a tough time. But there’s no evidence to suggest that this results in more people ending their own life around the holidays. I hope everyone will join me in what’s become a personal crusade to stop this myth in its tracks, and replace it with more productive information and education towards suicide prevention all year round.
Whether you pop in the DVD or catch one of the many showings on television this season, the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” tops many must-watch lists for holiday viewing. But for those of you who work in crisis and suicide prevention we suspect you view this film through a unique lens…
You know you’re a Crisis Worker watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” if…
- You comment on how the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime
- You’re jealous that Clarence got to see a factual recap of George’s life before talking to him and think about how much that would help you respond to callers
- You know George’s circumstances aren’t nearly as bad as many of the people you’ve talked to, and yet you still empathize with him and don’t judge him for feeling suicidal
- 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 praise Mary for calling a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and not keeping his behavior a secret
- It reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family
- You note that George chose a very high lethality method
- You wish Clarence would spend more time letting George tell him how he’s feeling and what has him thinking about suicide, instead of shutting him down and telling George he shouldn’t say such things
- 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.
This week our business development team will convene in Nashville to participate in the CUSA/NASCOD conference. This event is going to be a particularly special one for us because so many members of our team will be together at once, someone’s even travelling internationally to be there; Britt will be coming all the way from Germany to meet our North American clients!
After Friday’s sessions, we invite you to join us and CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ for a special session at 5pm. We will highlight the TxtToday pilot project; a national Texting Helpline. This pilot is a partnership between CONTACT of Mercer County New Jersey and CONTACT Crisis Line in Jackson, with iCarol as the software platform that accommodates the data aggregation and load balancing of the texts among the centers. We’re excited to talk about iCarol’s role in this partnership and to listen to the centers’ experiences in the pilot.
If you’ve ever considered the benefits of having your center join a national network, then this session is definitely for you. The pilot participants wish to expand this network by adding on more participating centers, so we invite you to come and find out how you might become a part of this exciting venture to reach help seekers all over the nation via this extremely popular and growing channel of text communication. And if you’re still not convinced whether you should join us, we’ll have some treats to share with our audience. Everyone enjoys something to snack on after a busy day of learning and networking! 😛
So if you’ll be one of the many people in Music City later this week, please stop by our booth and say hi! If you use iCarol at your helpline then we’d certainly love to get to meet you face to face! If you’re not a current user, we’d be grateful for the opportunity to tell you about iCarol Helpline Software and how it’s used by helplines all over the world, many of whom will be represented at this conference. Hope to see you there!
People face many barriers on the path to receiving mental health care. Some of the most common are:
Stigma continues to be one of the toughest barriers to take down.
- Properly recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Knowing where to go for help
- Availability of services
- Cost of accessing services
- The stigma associated with accessing the service
Every day people are still made to feel ashamed for having a mental illness in spite of these being legitimate medical issues. We’d never dream of making someone with cancer feel as though they did something to “deserve it.” We couldn’t imagine looking at someone with diabetes and telling them that taking medication everyday to stay healthy wasn’t normal. I can’t comprehend telling someone with a broken leg, “If you put your mind to it you can walk without using crutches.” And yet these are the attitudes that those living with mental illness are still facing every day. Some people still fail to see the medical legitimacy in mental illness, causing many to be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help.
Courtesy of SAMHSA below are some suggestions for messages to share the helps reduce stigma:
Support People with Mental Illness –
Society needs to understand that people with mental illness are not the “other,” they are our family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They deserve understanding and support.
Learn More about Prevention –
Behaviors and symptoms that signal the development of a behavioral health condition often manifest two to four years before a disorder is present. Effective prevention and early intervention strategies reduce the impact of mental illness.
Help is Available –
Treatment and mental health services are available and effective. Local crisis lines can be a wonderful source of emotional support and an access point for referrals to professional mental health treatment. If they are in crisis or suicidal, Americans can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Canadians can dial their local crisis centre if they are suicidal or in crisis. Local helplines, crisis lines, and distress centres, or 2-1-1 Information and Referral lines can also be excellent sources of support and referral.
Recovery is Possible –
Most people are able to successfully overcome or manage mental illness, including serious mental illness, with the right treatment and support. Spread the message of recovery.
So during mental illness awareness week, I hope that we’ll all recommit ourselves to educating others about mental illness, and continue to chip away at that stigma. Helplines are on the front lines of this fight. Every day, people who haven’t yet talked to their doctor or a loved one about their symptoms choose to reach out to a helpline. Being greeted with the understanding, knowledge, and validation that helpline workers provide plays a huge role in reassuring someone that it’s okay to seek help.
Domestic Violence has been a much-discussed topic in the media these past few months, due in large part to NFL star Ray Rice and other notable professional athletes being involved in incidents of domestic violence. The fact that some famous athletes are perpetrators of domestic violence shouldn’t surprise us; the numbers tell us that domestic violence, particularly violence against women, is unfortunately common all over the world and effects people of all professions, socioeconomic statuses, races, sexual orientations, and genders.
The attention these stories receive brings the issue out into the light and educates the masses on the facts and figures, but it also brings out the victim blaming and shaming. People who aren’t familiar with the insidious nature of domestic violence are quick to simplify a situation by saying, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Hashtag campaigns such as #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft have been helpful in explaining that the answer to that question is far from simple.
We know that domestic violence touches millions of people every day who aren’t famous. Their stories are sometimes kept secret from friends and loved ones, and they certainly don’t make headlines, except perhaps when they result in a homicide. The World Health Organization states that up to 38% of murders worldwide are committed by the intimate partner of the victim.
According to the US Justice Department, in the mid 1990’s the domestic violence rate started to drop, but it’s hard to tell whether this was due to the overall drop in violent crime, a result of the Violence Against Women Act, or other factors. But the numbers are still far too high, estimated at around 1,000 incidents each day in the United States. And even though the need for shelter, legal support, counseling, and other services is great, funding for programs is insufficient and these services are struggling to meet the demand.
Eventually this topic will fade from the public’s consciousness so it’s important that we all keep talking about it and raise awareness and understanding of the issue. Advocate for prevention programs that help teach young people about healthy relationships, which experts say is key in reducing domestic violence since many men and women who are in such relationships as adults were first assaulted as adolescents. Support your local domestic violence helpline or shelter so that they can continue doing great work and meeting the needs of your community.
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.
This 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. 🙂
The 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.
We’re gearing up for the American Association of Suicidology’s 47th Annual Conference in Los Angeles! We’re looking forward to seeing so many of our friends and colleagues there; it’s always a great chance to catch up with everyone in the helpline and suicide prevention industry.
This year iCarol is particularly excited to present a special lunch session on Friday April 11th. Our workshop is
With every passing year, the use of new channels to seek help continues to expand. Join this session to help your crisis center evaluate these channels, determine your next steps and plan your technology choices to adapt to the evolving Online Emotional Support (OES) landscape. You’ll hear from your peers and technology experts about the best way to get started serving people interactively using the electronically written, rather than the spoken word.
Chat, Texting, Mobile and Social: A look at today and the future of online emotional support with iCarol.
Adding new channels by which your clients can reach you can be intimidating and may leave you with a lot of questions. We hope to answer the questions you may have about these new technologies and give you confidence to embark on this new and exciting path with the tools iCarol has developed. We hope you’ll join us for this session at AAS! Not attending the conference but still want to learn more about our Online Emotional Support capabilities? Sign up for a webinar!
The National Association of Crisis Center Directors (NASCOD) recently announced an exciting collaboration with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These two leading authorities in the helpline industry will collaborate on the delivery of monthly Webinars and Peer Support calls. The collaboration allows both agencies to highlight their strengths, share vital information across a larger network of crisis agencies and maximize training opportunities with ease and convenience for the busy helpline and suicide prevention professional.
This collaboration presents two major benefits to participants:
NASCOD Members will be invited to the Lifeline Evaluation Webinar Series which will focus on research supporting crisis and suicide intervention best practices
NASCOD will coordinate and present a series of peer support calls that will be shared with the Suicide Lifeline Network
If you’re not yet a member of NASCOD we highly recommend you consider becoming a member. NASCOD provides great resources to professionals at crisis lines, helplines, and suicide prevention lines. Regularly held Peer Support Calls allow crisis center directors to engage with one another and benefit from the experience of other directors on a number of pertinent topics. NASCOD also holds an annual conference that helps directors hone in on management and leadership skills, network with other helpline professionals, and learn more about specific topics, issues, and challenges in the helpline industry. Many NASCOD members use iCarol helpline management software and so this is one more area in which members can share knowledge and information with one another, for example how they are using iCarol features such as texting/SMS, chat, statistics, and resources to their advantage.
With the announcement of this partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline it’s an excellent time to become a NASCOD member and take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the exchange of ideas and experiences between these two important leaders in the crisis helpline industry.
Recently we announced the availability of several exciting new capabilities related to Texting/SMS in your iCarol system:
- Send a text message (SMS) to your callers from a follow-up task attached to a call report. Best practices from suicide prevention professionals show that proactive follow-ups can reduce risks to suicidal callers.
- Send ad hoc text messages to your staff and volunteers, and allow them to receive automated iCarol notifications like shift reminders by text message. As many people now check email less frequently, this is an important new channel for them to use.
- See the total text message usage for your iCarol system. If you have any feature enabled that can generate Text/ SMS messages, you can now go to the Statistics -> Messaging page to see how many are being sent and received.
- If you also have iCarol Messaging (SMS), then when people respond to these outbound text messages, their responses will come into your Messaging queue. If not, they will receive an auto-responder indicating responses are not monitored.
To turn on these features and learn more about using Text Messaging/SMS at your helpline, go to the Admin Tools page and click on the new Messaging tab. Please note that Text Messaging / SMS traffic can result in additional charges from iCarol as well as for the recipient from their mobile phone service provider. If you have any questions, feel free to contact the iCarol Support Team by logging a case.