The Suicide Hotline : A Sobering Look At The Indifferent Face of Suicide Prevention
In case you may ever consider calling a suicide hotline, I am presenting this information so that you will not be too surprised when after waiting an average of ten minutes on hold for someone to respond, you realize that you are finally talking to someone, but nobody's home. After my experience on the suicide hotline, on several occassions during the last two years, I am convinced that such services often do more harm than good, and are actually leading people to commit suicide, instead of preventing it. When a person calls a suicide hotline it is often their last resort. But when the person in crisis realizes that the person on the other end is just reading from a script, really doesn't care, and is just "doing their job", then it could easily be the straw that breaks the camels back. Here is just one of several interesting conversations I have had on the Veterans Crisis Line.
wrenchBiscuit on the Suicide Hotline
Suicide Hotline: How may I help you sir?
wrenchBiscuit: I don't know. You tell me. How can you help me?
Sucide Hotline: Well that depends sir, what brings you on the phone today?
wrenchBiscuit: I saw your ad online that said your organization is here to help people, and so I would like to know how you can help?
Suicide Hotline: Well, what brings you on the phone this evening? Let's start with that.
(Please note that at this point I have twice clearly stated my purpose, and I have twice been ignored)
wrenchBiscuit: I don't understand why you are unable to answer my question, as I believe it is quite clear.
Suicide Hotline: It's difficult to provide that kind of support when I'm not quite sure what the situation is.
wrenchBiscuit: OK, forget about me for a moment. What do you normally do for people in general? Or give me just one example of how you have helped someone.
Suicide Hotline: [Loud impatient sigh] Well generally we talk to people and help them get connections with resources helping them through crisis, so I'll ask you, are you in crisis right now sir?
wrenchBiscuit: Well, that depends on what your definition of "crisis" is. It is not unusual for two people to have a different definition for the same word. In order to give you the proper answer, I first need to know how you define the word "crisis".
Suicide Hotline: OK sir, I'm just saying I'm not really sure how this conversation is going to be productive, because I'm asking you, you know, what's bringing you on the phone? What's going on? And rather than telling me, you know, what you're experiencing, what you're going through, you're kinda asking me questions about "it", rather than telling me what's going on.
( If you re-read this exchange up to this point you will be reminded that I have told this moron exactly what is going on. I first clearly asked how he could help me, and then I clearly asked what his definition of "crisis" was, and even briefly explained the importance of a common definition.)
wrenchBiscuit: I have told you exactly what is going on, but you are reluctant to answer my questions.
Suicide Hotline: Let me see, are you thinking of Suicide sir?
wrenchBiscuit: I asked you a reasonable question about your definition of "crisis". However, instead of answering my question, you are now asking me if I want to kill myself. Your methodolgy is quite remarkable.
Suicide Hotline: OK sir, I'm going to terminate this call. I'm not sure this is really progressing anywhere. So I'm going to end the call. I do thank you for your time.
[At this point the Hotline hangs up.]
It is apparent that the individual I was speaking to here was very arrogant, indifferent, and impatient, with absolutely no compassion for a human being in crisis. He was reading from a script, and he was also expecting scripted responses from me. The fact that he "thanked me for my time', when he was obviously annoyed by our conversation, indicates that his words are meaningless. How can we believe and trust such a person when their behavior is more reminiscent of a parrot than a thoughtful and caring human being? How can an individual be motivated to continue living, when at the 11th hour he is reminded that no one really gives a damn?
This individual had no idea of what I was going through. Anyone who has ever suffered trauma, or witnessed the effects of severe emotional distress, understands that the person in crisis does not always dot all of their "i's" or cross all of their "t's". On the contrary, an individual under such pressure may ramble,or speak in riddles. The emotional pain they are experiencing may prohibit them from directly addressing the problem, as the burden may simply be too great for them to bear. They may also be quick to anger, and even verbally abusive to those who may be seeking to help.
Once while living in the state of New York I was driving down a suburban street with my girlfriend. Suddenly we saw a small dog flopping around on the side of the road. The dog had just recently been ran over by an automobile. I pulled over and my girlfriend picked up the poor creature and held it on her lap as I continued to the nearest veterinary clinic, which was just about a quarter of a mile away. But when we got there we were informed that they did not handle such cases. And so, I had to drive over ten miles to the nearest clinic that would help. The poor little dog had been squarely ran over. It's belly was ripped open. It's intestines were exposed, and it was a bloody mess. But it was the screams of the poor animal that still trouble me the most. I have never heard such a sound of pure torment, and utter agony. The screams that emanated from this wretched soul almost sounded human. And for the entire trip, which took at least 20 minutes through the city traffic, the screaming continued unabated. If I would have had a gun I would have gladly shot the little dog to end it's suffering. Thankfully, when we got to the clinic, the owners who were visiting from out of town were soon located. They arrived shortly thereafter and had the little dog put down. And so, what is the point of this sad story?
The point is, when people are suffering from great emotional distress they are a lot like the little dog in my story.They must escape from the pain. They must find a way to ease the pain, or they must end the misery themselves. Words alone cannot prevent suicide. Presenting a scripted presentation to persons in crisis is not only useless, but it is a heartless gesture, and can even make matters worse. Words must be wrapped in love and understanding. Our words must then be followed with a positive action; not necessarily to find a "solution", but to find a way to ease the pain and the suffering.
For instance, when a man's wife and 3 children are killed in a motor vehicle collison, there is no such thing as "closure". There is only a huge gaping hole in this mans life that can never be filled. For such a man there is no solution, or remedy for the pain. For this man there are only two alternatives. He can either find a way to live with the pain, or he can end his life. It is our responsibility to help him find a way to live with the pain. We must never tell such a person that things are going to get better, because for him they never will. But instead, we must help such a man find another reason to live; a reason for continuing his life, in spite of the pain of loss; in spite of the pain of remembering.
I am very disappointed, but not surprised by my sobering experience on the Veterans Crisis Line. I am a Vietnam Era Veteran, but if I should ever seriously contemplate suicide, the Veterans Crisis Line will not be the last number I would consider calling. This number will not even be on my list!
© 2017 Ronnie wrenchBiscuit