Volunteers Sought For Suicide Hotline

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WESTFIELD — CONTACT We Care, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline with listening centers in Westfield and Morristown, will hold their next round of training for volunteers beginning Sept. 18 at the Summit YMCA. Volunteer listeners and texters are trained to help save lives and ease crisis and find their efforts extraordinarily rewarding, according to Sue Fasano, the hotline’s director of programs.

“CONTACT We Care wouldn’t exist without our volunteer listeners and texters,” Fasano said. “We wouldn’t be here for people in need if it were not for them. They know that and find what they do very gratifying.”

CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach CONTACT by dialing 908-232-2880 or texting “CWC” to 839863.

Volunteers are trained to respond to be people at risk of suicide or in crisis with an empathetic ear and help them see they have options, according to Fasano. Volunteers can work at either the hotline’s Westfield listening center or its new Morristown listening hub.

The next round of volunteer training will begin Wednesday, Sept. 18, 7:00 p.m. at the Summit YMCA located at 67 Maple Street, Summit, NJ 07901. The 12-week course begins with a three-hour orientation that is followed by three-hour evening classes once per week for 12 weeks, with a one-week break. The only expense is $75 to cover the cost of training materials.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener or seeking additional information should contact Fasano at 908-301-1899 or
sue.fasano@contactwecare.org.

“Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide,” she said. “More than 38,000 people died by suicide in 2010, including 4,600 young people. And for every one suicide there are 25 attempts. The suicide rate has been increasing every year since 1999, rising more than 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. More alarming, the rate of teen suicide has been rising since 1975.”

Fasano notes that callers and texters to CONTACT We Care are of all ages, genders and economic backgrounds. Some are having thoughts of suicide while many others are experiencing some crisis in their life, from a young person being bullied to an adult going through a divorce or a parent distraught over financial struggles.

“These people are our neighbors,” she said. “They are reaching out to us and our listeners and texters are there when they need someone. Imagine how it would feel to be in crisis or thinking about suicide, want to talk to someone and have no one to turn to. We make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Fran McTernan has been a volunteer listener at CONTACT for 10 years and finds the experience as rewarding today as when she stated.

“After talking to people on line I realized how gratifying it is to help someone,” she said. “It gives me a sense of purpose and it also gives me a sense of gratitude. I realized that by simply listening to someone and being able to empathize with them, that is a tremendous gift to that person.”

McTernan will always remember one call from a 17-year-old high school student who was feeling overwhelmed by life.

“She lived near train tracks and called one night terrified because she felt she heard the tracks calling to her and suicide was an option,” McTernan said. “She had stood on those tracks before and felt like she was getting closer to ending her life. The majority of the call was listening to her story, connecting with her and empathizing with her in a nonjudgmental way. My part of it was to help her come up with a safe point.”

Fran directed the teenager to psychiatric help available in her county.

“I went home that night knowing she had been close – it had been a true option for her to stand on those tracks and end her life,” McTernan said. “I believe she got the help she needed. I like to think she is a college student somewhere, thriving. That was gratifying for me.”

Yet not all calls to the hotline are from people contemplating suicide, McTernan noted.

“The suicide calls are very dramatic but the other thing that gives me a sense of purpose is talking to our regular callers,” she said. “We have people who are disabled for a variety of reasons and under care but because their disabilities are so severe they become more and more isolated.”

One man has been calling CONTACT for 10 years, generally at night when feeling isolated, McTernan said.

“He called one Saturday about 10 o’clock and said, ‘I’m waiting to take my meds and it always helps when I can connect with you guys.’ Even after 10 years these kinds of calls are powerful to me. What we do on those lines is really powerful and really meaningful.”

Fasano said people who might think about volunteering to be a listener but are unsure of their ability to handle such a responsibility should not be concerned. Volunteers attend 60 hours of training in active listening skills and how to handle the broad range of calls received on the hotline, as well as advanced training in suicide intervention skills, she said. Then they are teamed with an experienced listener before taking calls solo.


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