Suicide is no laughing matter. On average, a person will succeed at ending their life every 16 minutes. It’s a choice that has tremendous affects on our society. If you are considering suicide, I urge you to please read “Are You Thinking of Suicide / Feeling Suicidal? Do You Want to Die?”
Fresh out of college with a social work degree about 10 years ago, I signed up to volunteer at a local suicide hotline. I had a part-time social work job, but wanted to gain some additional experience. I also just wanted to help people in crisis situations.
This volunteer experience eventually led to a paid job. For about 2 1/2 years I took calls from people in a variety of crisis situations. Some were feeling suicidal or had a friend or family who had threatened to kill him/herself.
My experience at the hotline changed my life. Here are a few of my confessions from working at a suicide hotline.
Confession #1: I got nervous with each call.
I took each suicide or crisis call seriously. Even after being there a couple of years, I still got nervous with each suicide call. Each call to me had a real-life person behind it. I wouldn’t say I ever panicked, but I did get nervous with each suicide call.
I did truly want to help the callers. I did not volunteer solely to gain some resume experience or to get job references. I truly wanted to make a difference. I believe that each call can make an impact on someone’s life.
Confession #2: I got lots of prank calls.
Yep, I received several prank calls. Many were from teenage girl sleepovers. Don’t worry, I took each one seriously. I really had no real way to know they were prank calls, but I was pretty sure they were. In fact, one Saturday morning, I received a very bizarre call. Then about 30 minutes later someone from a different state called to tell me it had been a prank, and the call was broadcasted over the internet on a prank call site. I believed him.
We did not track prank calls and did not have caller ID. But, if you’re reading this, don’t even think of making a prank call to a suicide crisis hotline. Some will track you down and it can have serious consequences.
Confession #3: I learned there’s a lot of lonely people in this world.
The hotline that I worked for took general crisis calls, not only suicide calls. We had many frequent callers who would call many times a week. In fact, some called many times a day. There’s a lot of lonely people in this world without family or true friends. I think most of these callers could not afford access to the internet, or perhaps they would have found support on message boards and forums. I believe that we kept some of those frequent callers alive by allowing them a safe place to call.
Confession #4: I learned that many volunteers or workers had been in crisis themselves.
Most suicide hotline volunteers have had personal experience with suicide. They have either felt suicidal at one time themselves, been treated for depression, or have lost a family member to suicide. Of course, there are some that haven’t, but many do. If you call a suicide hotline, chances are the listener has had some personal experience.
Confession #5: The pay was extremely low.
When I became a paid employee of the hotline, the salary was very low. In fact, I was below poverty level. (Since I was single and without kids, it didn’t really matter.) But, it was worth it. I enjoyed my job. I wanted to make a difference more than I wanted a paycheck. I would have been paid a lot more if I had chosen to answer calls for a customer service line, rather than a suicide hotline.
If you are considering volunteering for a suicide hotline, I highly recommend you give it a try. You can’t fix someone’s problems, but you can listen and offer them referrals and suggestions. Just one call can make a difference.