Editorial: Consider volunteering to man the phones at a crisis hotline

  • Kim Vadner answers calls on the suicide prevention line at Suicide Prevention Services of America in Batavia. Officials at suburban crisis hotlines say volunteers are needed.

      Kim Vadner answers calls on the suicide prevention line at Suicide Prevention Services of America in Batavia. Officials at suburban crisis hotlines say volunteers are needed. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

People who volunteer often talk about the "high" they get from giving their time to a good cause.

Some volunteer gigs, like coaching youth sports or as a Scout leader, are fun and easy ways to give back to the community. They usually have plenty of people willing to step up. Others are more challenging and carry a greater risk/reward. Those volunteer needs are tougher to fill. It's probably no surprise the crisis hotlines that answer calls from people at the lowest moment in their lives -- when they're depressed, overwhelmed or even considering suicide -- fall into that latter category.

Yes, this job is not for everyone. But if you want to make a difference in someone's life, have some emotional capital of your own to invest and are willing take some training, this could be your call to help.

At issue are the many local crisis hotlines where there's a shortage of people willing to work at all hours to respond to callers and texters when they need help the most. Officials at two Batavia-based hotlines say they are staffed by a dozen volunteers and six interns but sometimes are still short-handed, and aren't able to operate 24/7 because of the staffing issues. Those extra calls are turned over to other sites among the 160 call centers in National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network.

The hotlines see frequent turnover of volunteers and some volunteers who go through training don't follow through. That leaves on the other end of the line callers and texters in crisis who may range from a laid-off worker anxious about health care to a grief-stricken relative of someone who died by suicide.

Experts say the need is great these days amid the ongoing political turmoil and growing awareness of mental health concerns. Mass school shootings, big swings in the stock market, concerns about immigration, personal health problems and the struggle to make ends meet -- all can be triggers in a cry for help.

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"During periods of high stress due to economic or political issues, we see that the people we are serving need more help and want to call more often," Cheryl Brown, director of Crisis Line of the Fox Valley in Aurora, told our Marie Wilson.

How would you help? You don't need to be educated in mental health, social work or counseling, but you will be trained to lead conversations, de-escalate tense situations and direct callers to resources. The aim is to explore concerns, help them set goals and work collaboratively on problem-solving, rather than giving them solutions.

If it sounds like something for you, contact: Suicide Prevention Services of America, www.spsamerica.org/hotline-training; Crisis Line of the Fox Valley, www.aidcares.org/volunteer.html; or Crisis Text Line, www.crisistextline.org/volunteer

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