The SUPPORT Hotline provides telephone crisis intervention and is a program of Portage Path Behavioral Health, an adult community mental health center in Summit County, Ohio. After two months of rigorous training, hotline volunteers provide a skilled combination of empathic listening, crisis intervention, risk assessment, community referrals and, if necessary, emergency intervention for callers in crisis, some of whom may be suicidal. Free and confidential, the SUPPORT Hotline has operated in Summit County since 1968, with volunteers on the front lines since its inception. Each of our over 30 volunteers commits 200-250 hours in their first year of service; and, more than half continue to volunteer well beyond a year. Currently, almost a third of volunteers have given 5 or more years of service.
A call to the hotline is often the first contact an individual makes to talk about suicidal thoughts, symptoms of mental illness, loneliness, abuse, addiction or other overwhelming life problems. The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) reports that suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the nation; translating to one suicide every 16 minutes. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (2001), 23% of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year with half reporting impairment of their daily functioning due to the mental illness and about 9-13% of children have a serious emotional disturbance. Poverty, discrimination, fear, and shame often prevent people from seeking needed help. Individuals with persistent mental illnesses may lack the support and resources needed to find and maintain life-enriching treatment. Our volunteers are at the other end of the phone with the nonjudgmental support, understanding and information needed to break through barriers and isolation.
The impact of crisis hotlines is difficult to measure. But it is hard to ignore the relief in a caller’s voice when someone finally listens to them and “gets it” or the calls to thank the volunteer for the life-saving help or the weekly calls from the person with a mental illness who needs a touchstone. Each year, hotline volunteers take calls from almost 5,000 people; provide over 3000 referrals to community agencies and provide emergency intervention for over 100 individuals. With the creative input of the volunteers, the hotline service has kept up-to-date by implementing improved procedures and technologies, obtaining national AAS crisis line certification and adding tools and resources for helping callers.
SUPPORT Hotline volunteers have been quietly touching lives for 36 years, expecting nothing in return and armed only with intense training, dedication, empathy, and a telephone. The concept of crisis hotlines is not a new one, rather, it models one of the oldest ways a community can help its own; people listening to one another.