January 06, 2014
This story begins with a sign. In November, 2013, I was at the Trenton, New Jersey Amtrak Station waiting to take the train back to Washington, D.C. While standing on the platform, I noticed a sign from the New Jersey Hopeline that read, “You’re Not Alone. Feeling Desperate, Depressed, or Suicidal? Call Us 855-654-6735.” I was really glad to see that sign and the exposure it provided to this service. A few minutes later, a woman on the platform struck up a conversation with me and asked what I had been doing in the area. I explained the reason for my visit and mentioned that I work with the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center. She told me of two families she knew in which young people had taken their own lives. Her story provoked a deep response in me as I realized just how present the challenge of preventing suicide is in our lives.
I thought about how important it is to get the crisis line message and phone number to people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide. Many feel that there is no one who will understand their struggle – not a family member, friend, teacher, trusted colleague, or professional. We need to reach these individuals and let them know that—at what might be the loneliest moment in their lives—they can pick up the telephone and call 1-800-273-TALK or their local crisis line, and have a conversation with someone who will listen and help. We need to be vigilant and present in locations where individuals are at risk, but just as importantly, we need to make sure everyone knows that these lines exist and that help and hope is available. Seeing that train station sign was a reminder that we need to promote the availability of our crisis lines in selected and indicated settings as well as in universal settings. Most of us in the field know the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number as well as our own. We need to work hard to ensure that this is the case for everyone in our society. On my train ride home, I could not stop thinking how I wish those two young people in New Jersey had called that number and given the staff in the center a chance to help.
I later discovered that these signs were being posted in all 164 New Jersey Transit train stations in response to an increase in the number of people who have died by suicide in incidents involving trains. New Jersey Hopeline is that state’s first suicide hotline and a member of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which links over 160 certified centers around the nation. The sign in New Jersey reminded me of other signs I have seen. I remember being in Howth, Ireland, a seaside community known for its beautiful cliff walk. To get to the walk, I had to climb a steep hill. When I got to the top I saw a sign for the Samaritans hotline. It simply stated “Need to talk? SAMARITANS” and provided the number to call. The sign on the train platform and the one in Ireland also brought back a vivid memory of driving over the Delaware Memorial Bridge years ago and seeing an electronic sign that displayed the name of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and provided the number 1-800-273-TALK. In all three cases, the numbers were provided so those who may be at risk would know how to obtain help. It is important that we work hard to ensure that everyone knows the lifeline numbers and that at critical moments, when in despair or distress, they may pick up the telephone and get help.
Whenever I learn of a death by suicide, I am saddened and reminded of the incredible task that lies ahead for all of us: to end the tragic experience of suicide in our nation. I’m also mindful that we in the field of suicide prevention should celebrate and support the selfless service of the people who answer calls at the many crisis centers around the nation and the world. One thing that each of us could do that would both support these services and help prevent suicide is to make sure that our friends, families, clients, classmates and colleagues know how to reach out and get help by calling the crisis call centers. Many have called, and many lives have been saved. But we need to ensure that everyone knows of this valuable service and is ready, if needed, to make the call.