Anyone who is an avid Facebook user has probably seen contacts copy and paste posts with suicide hotline numbers, urging people to call if they experience suicidal thoughts. How many wondered who might be on the other end of a suicide hotline and how qualified they might be to help? What happens when you call?
As it turns out, each hotline is a bit different, and some are staffed by volunteers. Meanwhile, others are manned by licensed counselors. There are suicide hotlines out there that you can call when facing a surge of suicidal ideation.
What Are Suicide Hotlines?
This might seem like a question that doesn’t need answering, but the truth is that it does. Suicide hotlines are, by and large, hotlines that one can call when experiencing suicidal ideation (in other words, suicidal thoughts and the compulsions to act on those thoughts). Pretty much every suicide hotline is toll-free. Many also have online chat rooms that allow you to privately talk with a hotline staff member from the comfort of your own keyboard. Essentially, it is up to anyone to select the method that feels the most comfortable for them.
The biggest thing that one needs to know about suicide hotlines is that not all of them are staffed by licensed counselors. Some suicide hotlines are actually operated by volunteers who may or may not currently be licensed counselors. Also, any call may or may not be routed to a centralized location. Again, this is entirely dependent on which suicide hotline one calls. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and others will route the call to the location that is closest to the caller.
The typical suicide hotline does not offer specific help for those in the LGBTQIAPK (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, asexual, polysexual and polygamous, and kinkiness) community. However, there are some suicide hotlines out there who do have specialized help for these individuals who experience suicidal ideation.
Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
When should someone call a suicide hotline? This answer might be difficult to discern on their own, especially since we all experience emotions and thoughts a bit differently, even suicidal ones. Typically, warning signs for suicidal fit into four categories: behavioral, cognitive, physical, and psychosocial.
Some examples from these categories are as follows:
- Behavioral: Displaying increasingly risky behaviors; less social contact; telling loved ones good-bye; increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol; no longer participating in favorite activities; more frequently talking about death and dying, including the use of phrases like, After I’m dead.
- Cognitive: Being preoccupied with death and dying; believing that suicide is the only way to end emotional pain.
- Physical: Alterations in eating habits; difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much; having a chronic or terminal illness; visible scars from previous self-inflicted wounds.
- Psychosocial: Self-resentment; loneliness; feeling hopeless, helpless, that the emotional pain will never end; major mood swings; paranoia; severe anxiety or panic; abrupt personality changes.
We’re all a little bit different, so any symptoms might not fall into all of these categories or follow any sort of easily-discernable pattern. Also, some of these symptoms on their own might not indicate the presence of suicidal ideation.
Causes of Suicidal Ideation
What drives people to want to commit suicide? We all face different circumstances and have different genetic and physical make-ups. So, this answer is probably slightly different for everyone. What we do know is that the most well-studied leading causes of suicidal thoughts and actions seem to be environmental, genetic, and physical.
Those considered to be most at-risk tend to include:
- Those with family histories of mental illnesses, or with untreated mental health issues;
- Those with untreated or difficult-to-treat physical disorders;
- Victims of abuse or neglect (especially domestic or familial);
- Those who have previously been incarcerated.
Other Issues Relating to Suicide
Something that doesn’t always get discussed is the long-term effect suicidal ideation can have over a person. Not only might there be physical scars, but there are emotional ones as well.
Also, in cases of fulfilled suicides, there are severe emotional ramifications for those left to grieve the loss. They will have to face social stigmas, guilt, and potentially their own depression or suicidal ideation. Those who have lost someone due to suicide can also reach out for help.
How Suicide Hotlines Work
When one calls a suicide hotline, a staff member will generally start off by asking about what prompted them to call. One will likely be asked to gauge how close they are to the moment to committing suicide. The person one speaks with will be able to offer them support and resources that one can access for additional assistance.
Our calls and chat messages are confidential, and we can choose to remain anonymous. If one doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to the person on the other end of the line, one has the right to hang up. Operators generally do not contact the police or emergency services unless it is clear that we are only moments from committing suicide. Also, operators should always try to ask for permission to contact emergency services.
Suicide Hotline Examples
Aside from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, there are numerous suicide hotlines around the world. In America, there are hotlines and websites in every single state.
Most major cities have their own community resources set up with hotlines. Many universities have hotlines set up and are ready to help students and non-students alike.
Calling a suicide hotline is a sign of courage, not weakness or hopelessness. It can be scary and uncomfortable to talk about our deepest and darkest emotions as they’re occurring.
However, we will likely find an empathetic and caring ear on the other end of the line who can help us start to navigate through your thoughts and feelings. It might be difficult to see, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The images are from depositphotos.com.