Increased Activity for NJ Suicide Prevention Call Lines Is a Positive Trend

Last Edited: Sep 07, 2018 9:52 AM -04:00

Though New Jersey suicide prevention lifelines are experiencing a record high volume of callers following two recent high profile suicides, staff feel encouraged by the data.

The callers are not actively contemplating suicide, but are seeking help to avoid crisis and tragedy, explains a call center director, Joanne McCarthy.  

 “People are saying, ‘If a person who had all this going for them could do this, it could happen to me,’” says McCarthy with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey Call Center. “They live with anxiety and/or depression and don’t want to feel so dark or hopeless that they reach that point.”

McCarthy said the proactive position of callers is a positive trend because they’re not only self-aware of their risk but also willing to reach out for help.   

The number of calls more than doubled following the June deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, according to McCarthy, who is stationed at the call center in Springfield, Union County. Calls previously averaged 30 per week, but rose to 100.  That number currently is at about 60.

In response to the need, staff have been added, said McCarthy, especially during mornings, which, she reports, are the most active time of the day.

The increased use and response to the call line is, in great part, attributed to the public’s exposure to the national suicide call line through media reports, which included the resource in its coverage. The nationwide line routes callers to call centers according to location and area code.  McCarthy and her staff are funneled calls from 8 of the state’s counties, including Atlantic, Cumberland, Cape May, Ocean, Hudson, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren.

In September, which is Suicide Prevention Month, there may be another noticeable increase since the call line will be shared in public awareness campaigns. 

The call center is staffed by professionals who answer the suicide prevention line as well as other on site specialists, either a Licensed Professional Counselor or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The team offers a wide range of supports from guided breathing exercises to referrals to a therapist.

“In other cases, callers are seeking help with anxiety, so we are talking about self-care. We’re able to get them thinking about where their lives may be out of balance and ways to work on that,” she explained.

Overall, says McCarthy, the lines are successful because it offers people in need an outlet to share their feelings. The element of anonymity is preferred because, she explained, often times callers are isolated or afraid to tell friend and family. The call center is perceived as a non-judgmental place for immediate help.

“For our call specialists, the work is important and fulfilling -- to be able to make a connection, to give another perspective, and give help to someone in need,” said McCarthy. “On both ends of the line, there’s a feeling of hope.”

It is reported that, for every one person who dies by suicide, 278 people think seriously about suicide, but not act on the impulse, said McCarthy, referring to a 2016 report from the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

The National Suicide Prevention Line is a network of local crisis centers that provides free, confidential emotional support to people in crisis or emotional distress. The number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).



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