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Wanted: Crisis Hotline Stories

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Wanted: Crisis Hotline StoriesCrisis and suicide hotlines are the backbone of most civilized nation’s response to suicidal individuals and are often the “first line” of intervention and response. Surprisingly, very little large-scale research has been conducted on the effectiveness of suicide hotlines, whether they actually save people’s lives, and what kind of followup they provide for individuals in crisis.

In one recent research study, Mishara et al. (2007) found that suicide hotline call center quality and the nature of their interventions varied considerably. The researchers also found that call centers tended to do little systematic quality assurance to ensure that volunteers who man the suicide hotlines are conducting interventions according to their initial training.

They also found that “Empathy and respect, [as well as a] supportive approach and good contact and collaborative problem solving were significantly related to positive outcomes” of people who called suicide hotlines.

That’s what the data say, but we’re interested in hearing your personal stories with a suicide or crisis hotline — either as a caller, or as a volunteer who spends time answering the phone at one.

34 Comments to
Wanted: Crisis Hotline Stories

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  1. Did you get appropriate training and re-training at regular intervals on how to respond to callers?

    A bit!

    I volunteered at the Samaritans, Central London branch from 1987 until 1991.

    Did your supervisors help you deal with burnout or the emotional toll of answering the calls?

    I can’t remember being properly debriefed ever, things have probably changed now.

    Was there any program in place to help monitor the quality of your interactions with callers?

    Don’t think so

    What was your motivation for volunteering in the first place?

    Ahh, this is the question that motivated me to respond to your survey! At the time I thought it was to give something back to society but in fact I think I wanted to find out whether it was safe to explore feelings and the past that gave rise to them. I found out that not only did it seem safe, it was beneficial and I did feel that the service did save lives. So after a year, I went into therapy myself to see whether I could be as brave as the callers who spoke to me every night. I was quite surprised about the changes talking can make and therefore trained as a counsellor and then as a psychotherapist. I gave up the Samaritans when I got pregnant because they didn’t have a no smoking policy and the the atmosphere in the call room made me cough! I think that will have changed by now too.

    What was brilliant about the Samaritans training when I did it was that it wasn’t so much a training but a sorting out of people who had a natural aptitude for the work to those that were more advice givers and moralists. They kept the naturally empathetic and weeded out the rest. There was about 50 hours of training, but the weeding was superb! I think it worked. The volunteers I worked with were mostly superb. Some of the supervisors (called SIC (Samaritan in charge)) I think could be a tad too formulaic and burnt out themselves, too quick to judge callers, but the ordinary volunteers were great.

  2. When i called a suicide hotline i had a person answer who was not empathetic at all. They answered the phone with a heavy sigh that was clearly audible. The man then proceeded to tell me that i needed more help than he could give me and it would be in my best interest to off myself. I was astounded. Though that statement woke me up i’m not quite sure that was the right way to go about my situation. I called back and got a wonderful woman who helped me out tremendously but i will not be calling a crisis center again if i am suicidal. There’s no point in me getting on the phone and trying to get help when someone is just going to tell me to kill myself and i’d be “better off” if i did. I don’t see how i’m supposed to encourage my depressed and suicidal friends to call a hotline that has done nothing for me. I know there are some wonderful, caring, empathetic people who man those phones and help people every day. However, for every good experience i’ve had i have 5 bad ones. On a side note though, i am truly thankful for the woman that helped save my life and i just hope she still works at the place i had called.

  3. I was very worried at the time about keeping my condition a secret, so the first thing I asked was whether they had caller ID. The woman simply said “Yes” and didn’t offer any additional info, such as what they used the caller ID for, so I told her I’d changed my mind about wanting to talk and hung up.

    Never tried the hotline again. a) the woman didn’t seem very friendly or caring b)I’m careful about with whom I share certain info

  4. Brilliant blog post, by the way.

    I’ve had a couple of experiences with crisis lines, one a good experience and the other, not so good. This blog entry has actually made me remember the crisis lines are always there, especially at the moment where I find myself alone on dark, isolating evenings.

    I rang up once in a state of suicidal ideation, my then psychiatrist reccomended I ring this particular crisis line. I doubted it at first – how can some stranger who doesnt even know me, truly understand? I spoke to a woman, who had a soothing voice – not a forced soothing voice, through the wires of the phone she seemed quite genuine. Cutting it short, it was good to talk to someone. There wasnt a caller ID without permission, or anything, so it had taken the pressure off in them taking action. I just needed to talk. Then and there. Cry. Hear a voice. They … with my permission, took my contact details and said they would call me the next day, at a particular time, to see how I was getting on. They did exactly as they said, and it truly was a good experience. I just remembered all of this – I need to use them more.

    I have had other bad experiences which yes, sent me to places in my mind which only furtherly hurt me, but that one good experience knocks the power out of the bad one.

    Take care,
    http://www.talesofaborderline.net

  5. The first time I called, it was my university crisis line. I had never sought help for any mental illness or anything before. I had suffered years and I was very serious but also afraid and I figured it was worth a try to call because I could still kill myself afterward, even if the call went badly.

    So I called and the girl told me that nothing in my life could be that bad, even though she never asked to hear what I felt my problems were. She said I should just go for a walk and just get my mind off of it. I got so angry and yelled “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and hung up on her. I sat in my room fuming for a couple hours, so I guess it worked in a way because I didn’t kill myself.

    Anyway, I was still angry, so a few hours later I called back and asked to talk to someone higher up and explained what happened. He told me that he was appalled by her behavior, and that’s not at all how they train people. He said it does help to get light exercise or do something that could get your mind off it, but in a serious crisis you ALWAYS tell them to go to the university mental health clinic (if it’s in hours, if not then the psych ER). I had no idea there even was a mental health clinic or psych hospital associated with my school! He also said that he doesn’t judge why anyone wants to commit suicide because to non-suicidal people things might seem “not that bad” but to someone in serious pain, they are that bad and they need to be taken seriously. It made me feel so much better.

    So after talking with the second guy I got set up with help at the university mental health center. So I guess calling was worth it, but not in the way it should have been. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like I was stupid and whiny and should just snap out of it because that’s not how it works. Once I was set up with a therapist, she helped me write a letter to the crisis line thanking the man who helped me but also requesting that they keep tabs on making sure people DO treat callers the way they were trained because I could have been so put down by that first call that I went out and just did it thinking there was no help.

  6. Two years ago I called the crisis line so often I knew most of the volunteers names. It was at a very low period of my life and I just needed a human voice, not necessarily to talk but to hear it. I found the call takers to be kind, patient, well in fact very patient with me and my mixed up thinking, best of all compassionate.

    They helped me through a very difficult time, they were available 24/7 but for me mostly when my therapy team were not available.

    I am not sure they truly understood but there are times even I do not understand my own thinking. I was very glad they were available but I will say I was always very careful to control my conversation so I did not trigger a visit from the police department.

  7. At the age of thirteen, I was harassed by an elderly friend of the family. It wasn’t serious, but when I tried telling the family, I got called a liar, a tease and worse.

    In a bit of despair, I wound up calling one of those crisis lines. Unfortunately, the lady who answered seemed mostly interested in *exactly* what the man had done, and when it became clear that it was nothing more than fondling and sticking his tongue in my mouth, she sounded almost disappointed. She could give me no advice on how to handle the situation, just some general suggestion that I seek ‘therapy.’

    I did not feel that she understood my problems at all, and have never tried calling a hotline again.

  8. I called a crisis centre once and told them how I was feeling. The woman booked an appointment for me to come in to see a therapist the next day. That was fine, until she called me back to cancel the appointment because she had double booked it. Bad, very bad. However what she did do, and it was probably wise, was make me promise her that if I felt any worse that I would go the emerg dept at the hospital. I promised, not thinking it was such a big deal – but that night I ended up driving myself to the emerg dept. I can’t remember how I got there as I was sobbing the entire drive over. But I think I went more because she made me promise that I would.

  9. I’ve called a crisis line a few tmies, in different cities. My worst experience was with Crisis Centre BC, because:

    * Was the volunteer empathetic and compassionate to you?
    A kind voice, I could tell he was trying to be compassionate, but really didn’t understand how it felt.

    * Did they try and help problem solve your immediate crisis?
    No, and he told me that he’d been trained not to do that and wasn’t allowed to try to help me, only tell me to go to a hospital ER. When I told him I’d already been to the ER (as my pdoc also instructs) and had been turned away because they had no available beds, he had no other suggestions and said so.

    * Did they suggest followup care or other services within the community?
    Only the ER. I asked if there were any other alternatives and he had no idea.

    * Did they make a contract with you?
    No.

    * Did you ever call back and what was that experience like?
    Yes, another time, and it was the same thing. I think that particular crisis line trains their volunteers not to problem solve and just send us to the hospital, which is a problem for those of us who are calling to get help solving a problem!

    On the positive side, I called a crisis line years later in another city and the woman was very empathetic and compassionate and talked me through the situation. She was a good listener and suggested a few practical things that really helped me through the night.

    As a volunteer I had sex assault crisis line training but once I found out they were pro-suicide I didn’t stay with them.

    Now as someone who helps people on Twitter – not as a 24/7 crisis service, but as a resource – I’ve learned from those experiences and try to share a) practical, accessible, and free resources, and b) empathetic conversation. Sometimes just talking to someone who cares and has been there (peer support) really helps. The info I share has been useful to lots of people too, or at least that’s what they tell me, and it’s been very rewarding to hear that. :)

  10. I called recently and it was the second time in my life I had reached out to a hotline.

    The volunteer was one of the most cold, disinterested people I could have possibly encountered at such a great time of need.

    She did not care about talking to me. She said to go to a counselor. I said I had no insurance being newly divorced and unemployed – soon to be homeless. She said she could tell me where to go for free. I explained I needed to talk NOW (it was after normal business hours) and just to hear a voice.

    She became annoyed with me and said she was trying to get me help. I said I understood this, but needed to just talk for a minute. She was not going to entertain that.

    I said look – I am wasting your time apparently. I am going to disconnect the call now. She said OK and that was it.

    I sat on my bed in more deep hell than prior to calling. I still cannot grasp the horrible way I felt after speaking with this woman.

    This is a well known hotline which had a good reputation. I called the first time yrs prior and had wonderful help when I called. I felt safe and relived to call them back – until this woman took my call.

    I hung up feeling more ashamed than when I called, belittled and looked upon as a weak, ignorant disgusting person to have called.

    Next time – I will NOT reach out.

  11. I’ve worked as a call specialist at a suicide hotline for the past 2 years. I’m sorry that so many have had such negative experiences and would encourage you all to try again if you ever need help. While we all do the same job, the experience can vary with every individual, so no two Hotline experiences will be alike. It’s a human service after all, and that’s just the way humans work, I guess.

    Anyway, we are trained to offer supportive listening. We’re not there to provide the same support as a therapist, which is why so many are referred to one after calling the line. I think the line works best in conjunction with regular therapy or as a starting point towards seeking more permanent help. We are specifically trained not to give advice, but instead stabilize a current crisis (sometimes requiring hospitalization) and to help the caller come up with their own solutions and coping skills. Many people call just wanting someone to tell them what to do, and they become angry when we do not talk as much as they would like, but the line is there for the callers to talk and we are there to listen and help them find their own way.

    It can be a very hard job, and I’ll admit that sometimes empathy levels will run very very low. We can get abused and berated by callers too wrapped up in their own pain to realize that they’re talking to another real human being with feelings and flaws just like them.

    While we are trained on a regular basis and monitored through our typed call logs, there isn’t much in place for providing the emotional support we need as people who have to listen to the suicidal thoughts of an entire population. We mostly find support in our fellow co-workers and not with the supervisors. There usually isn’t even a supervisor on location during the shift, so we are mostly an independent, self-sufficient, and close-knit group. There is a lot we need to do as people to deal with the things we hear, and sometimes that means distancing ourselves from the people we speak to. That may come off as indifference at times, but that is never the intention.

    As a whole, we care about our callers very much, and we know when we haven’t done our best and it does weigh heavily on our hearts.

  12. Then don’t take on the responsibility of being part of a crisis team if it it is hard for you, Ana.

    Don’t expect people in crisis to reach out for help if you guys are a tight knit bunch who can have low empathy due to the high number of calls. Those who call are not idiots. They are in pain and your lack of empathy at times may be the the last link to survival for a person in crisis. That one time may be their bad luck to have reached out to an indifferent person.

    The last thing a person in crisis is capable of doing is discerning a hotline support volunteer’s state of mind.

  13. I’m sure if everyone who felt it was hard didn’t take on the responsibility, there would be no one left at any hotline. I think Ana was just pointing out there everyone is human, even those who volunteer several hours a week.

  14. Did you get appropriate training and re-training at regular intervals on how to respond to callers?

    Yes-we initially had 80 hours of training and have required follow-up training throughout the year.

    Did your supervisors help you deal with burnout or the emotional toll of answering the calls?

    Yes. We have supervisors who are always available to help 24/7. There is also a team of volunteers who have been there awhile who are available for support.

    Was there any program in place to help monitor the quality of your interactions with callers?

    Since all of our calls are confidential, they don’t record them or anything, but we do keep call logs which are monitored. Also, we have a supervisor sit with us twice a year for a 4 hour shift to see how we’re doing.

    What was your motivation for volunteering in the first place?

    I wanted to do something for people and this seemed perfect. I had some things happen in my life where I was left pretty scared and feeling alone. To me that is the most horrible feeling in the world -being afraid and feeling like no one cares. If I can be there for someone-if only to listen, I feel like we are both blessed.

    Unfortunately, I think that some college students will go thru the training and volunteer just so they can get the credits and their heart is not in it (and I do mean SOME..not ALL!!)
    Some nights are truly a mental and emotional beating and it is sometimes difficult to go from one call that was hard right on to the next. Volunteers should know to take a little break and get their head back together before taking another call -thus eliminating the “sigh” or a lack of proper attention.

    We are very empathetic to all callers where I work. We are trained very thoroughly to LISTEN and not judge.

    The hardest calls are the ones who call and yell and swear at you. But you can;t take it personally. These people are hurt and you have to love them and let them vent.

    Frequent sex callers will prey on hotlines. It is frustrating to sit and spend a lot of time with someone only to eventually realize that you’ve been duped into believing a story that is only for someone’s jollies…especially when another line may have been ringing with someone in real need. Yes, I know that the sex callers have problems too, but those who mis-use the line and are not interested in help at all are really the ones that make it frustrating.

    To all of you that call, please know that although you may not always get someone who seems to care, there ARE those of us out here that DO CARE and we love you. You are our brothers and sisters and if we can just be on the line —if only to lend an ear and an open heart, man….it makes it worth every freaking second.

  15. I had a pretty bad experience with a suicide prevention line. I felt so much worse after I called. I knew right away the call was gonna go badly, it was my own stupid fault that I didn’t hang up immediately. From the beginning her voice was flat and bored sounding and throughout the call she never tried to sound friendly or compassionate. When I tried to explain my problems to her she was very confused sounding like she was too dumb to understand my issues. Then she kept trying to blame me for all the problems in my life and she was openly skeptical about details in my story. How is being made to feel like a liar going to help with my suicidal feelings? And forget giving me advice, at one point in the conversation she said “…well, how am I supposed to help you?” This woman was uneducated, unsympathetic, and rude. She sounded like the type of person whose last job was at a fast food restaurant. I don’t know what type of manager would hire someone like this for a job this sensitive but the manager should be fired, too.

  16. I called a suicide hotline more than 15 times in the last 4 months. (Yes a bit obsessive I know). Each time I was in distress but made sure not to use words that would get the staff alarmed. I find that the majority of the volunteers are compassionate individuals who are wonderful listeners that truly want to help. I’m trying my hardest to stop calling as it has become my first go to number-rather than one utilized for emergencies. For any volunteers reading this–Thank You, you’ve definitely saved my life on more than one occasion. For anyone thinking of making the call–please give it a try!!

  17. I called a crisis hotline. I had just been released from a psych hospital less than a month before. I wanted to die. I had been in the psych hospital for three months. I told the man on the other end all this. He spoke to me for less than five minutes before he told me he was going to move on and he hung up on me. I was so humiliated…not even people who were supposed to care actually did. I went to my closet and tried to hang myself with a belt. My weight was apparently too much, and the whole bar crashed down. My parents ran upstairs and found me before I could get the belt from around my neck. I ended up back at the hospital. I will NEVER call a crisis line again. When I called I was 50% suicidal, but sort of ambivalent. After that rejection, it pushed me over the edge.

    • I just got off the phone with a “suicide hotline”, the woman told me to cut caffine out of my diet and buy a book and then assumed the conversation was over. I was having the worst panic attack of my life and realized it was something i didn’t want to live through. so i called. One of the reasons im alive right now, is because now, im more pissed off than suicidal.

  18. I am answering these questions as a volunteer and staff member for a crisis line:

    •Did you get appropriate training and re-training at regular intervals on how to respond to callers?

    No, I don’t feel like I did get appropriate training. I took volunteer training at my agency in 2009. It was a brief, 2 hour training course that covered things like policy, addressing my own attitudes, values and beliefs, listening and communication skills, and handling frequent callers. I was supposed to get training on suicide awareness/helping suicidal callers, but for whatever reason they never provided this training. I have been to two additional training courses since this time, but nothing that specifically identifies how to help a caller who is going through a suicidal crisis.
    I have a degree in psychology, however, so my education has helped prepare me for some of the calls. I am aware of facts and myths of suicide, I do have some training on how to provide effective counselling skills, but never have I received specific training or education on how to help a suicidal caller.

    •Did your supervisors help you deal with burnout or the emotional toll of answering the calls?

    This hasn’t been appropriate for me, as I have not felt that taking calls has caused me any emotional toll. I suspect that if I wanted to talk to someone about burn out there would be someone here. As a staff member, I am also prepared (although not trained!) to help volunteers deal with burn out. This is more from my own personal understanding and compassion rather than any specific training.

    •Was there any program in place to help monitor the quality of your interactions with callers?

    We fill out call logs with each call, and supervisors and other volunteers read these call logs to better prepare themselves for calls. The supervisor, however, does not give feedback to the calls. I feel this would be useful to help volunteers identify what they are doing right, and things that they might not be doing quite right.

    •What was your motivation for volunteering in the first place?

    As a youth, I spent about seven years feeling depressed and at times suicidal. During this time I read up about suicide and depression, and started developing an interest in psychology. When it came time for me to attend university I decided to take some psyc classes as electives. Soon after this I decided to major in psychology and eventually train to be a counsellor. I knew that I wanted to volunteer to both help out people who are going through their own crisis, because I have been there and know what it feels like. I also knew that I wanted to get experience in this role, as this is what I intend to do professionally after I finish my master’s degree.

    I consider myself fortunate to have been in a dark place in life but to have pulled myself out of it. I feel as though my expereince as a youth has helped me understand what some of my callers may be feeling, and I recognize that I want to give them the service that I wanted for myself in the past.

    That being said, there are many volunteers who do not get ample training and therefore do not know how to help out on the crisis line. They know they want to help, but are scared or feel underconfident. However, there are also some volunteers who just are not suited for their position. Not everyone cares and is empathetic, and it is possible to have a bad day and take it out on callers. There is responsibility on the crisis line volunteer/staff to provide good service, but its also the responsibility of the agency to make sure that volunteers/staff are trained so they CAN help and feel confident in the service they offer.

    In my own experience calling crisis lines, my first time was very helpful. I felt as though I could not talk to anyone and I wanted to get some things off my chest. I wanted to finally be able to tell someone that I was suicidal without having to worry about being judged. The volunteer had a warm and caring voice and helped me talk about what was going on. She listened when I needed her to listen, she asked questions when I needed her to help me say what needed to be said, and she helped me explore options.

    The second time I have called a crisis line was quite different. The volunteer seemed interested and had a caring voice, but as I explained the parts of my story she just said “yeah” “ok” those kind of things. Although this indicated that she was listening (and I do feel like she was paying attention and not just simply saying those things) she didn’t really help me develop the conversation. I wanted to be asked questions, I wanted someone to help me try to solve my problems through brainstorming possible solutions with me, and I even just wanted to hear someone say that they understood what a hard time I was going through. To top it off, I was very distressed (though not at immediate risk for suicide) and crying and she had to put me on hold to take another call. I realize that this was a very busy crisis agency, but at that point I felt really surprised that they would even do that. I felt as though my call wasn’t that important and I didn’t want to have to wait around until she finally came back on the line. I realize that this is not her fault, as this is the policy of the agency she works for. It just highlights the fact that sometimes the training and/or policy that the agency has in place is what limits the caller from truly helping.

  19. Last night I had called the 1800 HELP hotline. I got a male who sounded a bit bored. I told him I needed to talk to someone about my suicidal thoughts I was having at the time (I was crying). I waited for a reaspounce and he snapped at me with an “I’m listning!”. I also to him about me having trichotillmania (hair pulling disorder). He told me I chose to do it, that I am being negitive, and that if I really wanted to stop I would just stop. Everytime I attempted to explain that it was subconious and a disorder similar to OCD therefore it is not focused, he rudely cut me off. After I told him about a few more heavy subjects going on he then became polite. It was a draining phone call for me. I felt no care at all. He kept also sneaking in religous messages sublimanaly as well. Like “We are all brothers” or “Water into wine”. I would never call again. The night ended in more sobbing and self mutilation.

  20. I don’t know if this will be read, but if anybody did the search that I did, then that means that they most likely had a bad experience with a hotline and found this site talking about other bad experiences. I would like to tell my story but first I want anybody who is reading this who is suicidal to go to this website right now http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/original.htm. The night I had a horrible experience with the suicide hotline I was ready to do it because they made me feel so much worse. I was typing through my sobs reaching out for ANYTHING on the internet to help and luckily I found this site. It saved my life. I just kept reading it over and over until it was 8 am and I could get a hold of somebody who was actually trained to help me. I eventually got some of the best therapy a person could ask for as I did an outpatient program with a local psych hospital. I thank the heavens everyday that I did not kill myself. I know, personally, how close to death I was that night and I feel like I escaped it just barely, but I did escape it and no matter how bad things get now, I know how to help myself and cope. I still get suicidal thoughts, but I am never as close to death as I was this night I am getting ready to discuss. Thank you for listening.

    Now, about this night. I had had the worst fight with my boyfriend and in the months previous I had alienated myself from all of my friends. I felt so alone. I had been raped and I was going through that whole emotional roller coaster with a trial coming up and I also lived with a boyfriend who didn’t know how to handle it and he often handled it IN THE WORST POSSIBLE WAY. Please, if your loved one has been raped and you find it hard to cope with, reach out to a rape crisis center and find out how to cope in a way that is healthy for your loved one.

    Anyway, so we had a fight and I was left feeling so alone and unloved. Nobody knew what I was going through and I had convinced myself that nobody cared. I really started to think that everybody would be better off without me. They wouldn’t have to worry or they wouldn’t have to bother themselves to find out if I was okay because they didn’t really care anyway. I had convinced myself that everybody talked about how tiresome I was and how they were glad that I had stopped coming to events and parties where our group of friends always were. I felt such despair about the fact that my professors at school who I had gotten close with didn’t care about what happened to me now that I had graduated. They only pretended to like me and for some reason they never read my papers and only gave me As because they didn’t want to have to deal with me. This all may sound petty, but it felt like I was just a thorn in everybody’s side and I should just die to get rid of that annoyance for everybody. Your mind tells you weird things when you are in the depths of your depression.

    That was all bad enough but when you add the rape on top of that, it was too much. I was feeling horrible and my boyfriend didn’t understand and often called me a whore. There were several abuses from my past that the rape had brought to the surface that I used to just shrug off when the thoughts came to my head but now it was like they happened yesterday and were harder to deal with. It made me feel so small and like a used piece of trash. Not to mention that I had a narcissistic mother who never listened to me or tried to give me any empathy because all she wanted to talk about was herself.

    So I was sitting in my computer chair reaching out on the internet to find a way to not kill myself. My boyfriend kept guns in the house and I had to grab the armrests of my chair every once in a while to stop myself from getting up and loading a gun and shooting myself in the head. Sometimes my knuckles were white from grabbing that armrest so hard because the rest of me was fighting to get up and do it. Something in me, a small kernel, wanted to live and it stopped the rest of me from getting up, but it was losing steam and the rest of me that wanted to die was starting to win. This is when I decided to call the suicide hotline in hopes that I could talk to a sympathetic ear and give that small kernel inside of me that still wanted to live some more strength. Calling the hotline was the worst mistake I could have made that night.

    A very bored lady answered and asked how she could help me as if I had just called a sandwich shop. I was crying and I told her how isolated and alone I felt and that nobody loved me. I was bawling my eyes out at this point because I felt so much pain at this thought. She let out a deep sigh and said in the most unsympathetic, bored and annoyed voice, “I’m sure they all love you.” And then there was silence. I felt so much shame for seeming so petty and I was in shock at the complete lack of empathy in her voice. So I told her that I knew it sounded petty but it felt so horrible right now and I felt like everybody would be better off if I died and she laughed and said that I was just feeling sorry for myself and it would go away. I couldn’t take it anymore I was bawling and barely able to talk but I was able to get out that I just needed to hear somebody be nice to me and she laughed again and told me that she had other people who were in greater crisis to help and then hung up.

    I was devastated. I felt that if even a suicide hotline person didn’t care about me then what the hell was I doing here? My hands grabbed the armrests even tighter because I was ready. I wanted to get up and shoot myself then and there. I wanted to do it even more so after that conversation. There was still that small kernel inside of me that was hanging on though. I was crying and screaming and bawling in my chair. I would whip my head around in frustration and pain and just cry out with the most animalistic and guttural sounds because I was feeling so much anguish.

    I started to calm down and I thought that maybe that woman was just a fluke. Perhaps if I called a different hotline I would get somebody who would actually make me feel better. So my second mistake of the night was to try a different hotline. This time it was a guy and he sounded even more bored and annoyed. I was still crying, not quite bawling, but I told him that I really needed somebody to make me feel better because I was on the edge and another hotline call had made me feel worse. He asked what happened with the other call and I told him and then he proceeded to tell me in a very defensive tone that she wasn’t there to be my therapist and that she was doing her best. I had had it at this point. I lost it and started bawling again and I told him that I understood that she was busy but that I just needed her to be nice and she wasn’t the least bit nice. He then said that she didn’t have to be nice she just had to be there to answer the phone. I couldn’t believe it, I started screaming in frustration and I was bawling so hard that he hung up on me. I was so frustrated and I couldn’t believe that I had tried again and gotten somebody just as bad who actually DEFENDED the other person!

    I, again, had to fight myself from getting up and shooting myself and, again, I was making some of the most horrific sounding cries from my emotional pain. I felt so worthless. Not even two suicide hotlines cared about helping me. In my complete despair I reached out on the internet to find something, ANYTHING that could help and I found the website that I linked to at the beginning of this post, http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/original.htm ,and I felt like I had finally found somebody who connected with me. I finally found somebody who understood and who knew what I was going through. I held on the next few hours until I could call and schedule therapy by reading this page over and over again. It saved my life. I was ready to end it, I really was. Luckily, I didn’t and I am so grateful.

    I would NEVER EVER recommend anybody call one of those hotlines. EVER! The chance that you end up with somebody who could actually drive you to do it is too great and it isn’t worth it. Reading the site that I discussed or finding something else to read is the best thing I think somebody could do until they are able to talk to somebody who is trained. Call a therapy center and if you don’t have insurance or anything they will at least be able to point you in the right direction of where to get free help. It is imperative that you get help. The best thing about counseling is learning coping mechanisms so that you don’t ever have to let yourself get into such despair again because you will know how to cope with your pain before it gets that bad again.

    I wish all of you out there a gentle and healing time through such horrific times. I know the pain and trauma of suicidal depression and I know that even the littlest thing can set it off. You are not alone. People out there do care. You just need to find them.

    I want to thank the author of this page for this sounding board. It was very healing to tell my story.

    Love and peace to all of you.

  21. I contacted one particular lifeline and ended up hanging up a few minutes into the phonecall. The operator at the other end has very abrupt and rude and made me feel like i was wasting her time, like the distress i had was not warranted for her time. I had been discharged from hospital the day before and was struggling with not harming myself but all i got from her was ‘how is this my concern’. This was my first time in calling a lifeline and it was one of the steps implented i had agreed on so i could be discharged. Lets just say after feeling like i was a complete waste of space by this lady, i have not called lifeline again and i ended up in a pretty bad way; because lets face it, when the one place that is meant to try and make you safe tell you to stop wasting time; what is left?!

  22. About 14 years ago, in the middle of the night, a 7th grader called the hotline crying and suicidal . She thought she would get help but she didn’t. The person working for the suicidal hotline dismissed her, was rude, not compassionate, and completely unprofessional. That day, the 12-year old died there and then. For that and many other cases, hotlines should be held accountable to be responsible in giving the proper training and only allow competent, abled, capable, compassionate individuals that should be monitored and screened.

  23. I have called suicide hotline. They told me to hang up cause I’m drunk. Don’t. Care if u r a drunk. Still wanna die. Will do soon when drunk which is every Friday. I guess if ur drunk nobody cares.

  24. I’ve found these hotlines r staffed by people who don’t care. Nobody cares. That’s why I want to die. These hotlines r bogus.

  25. I have worked on the phones of a volunteer suicide helpline in Australia for 12 years (Lifeline). Our volunteers are trained to a Certificate IV level, the course being 16 days in length. For another 92 hours of answering the phone (usually a shift per 2 weeks), their work is supervised. Then each year, in order to remain accredited, they are required to attend in-service training, engage in monitoring of their calls for supervision and attend individual & group supervision sessions.

    Please, if you are in Australia reading this right now and you are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline. We are trained, compassionate listeners who will help you get through the difficult time you are experiencing. Call 13 11 14 …. it’s even a free call from mobile phones.

    Suicide is a permanent solution to the temporary thoughts and feelings you are having. We will help you find ways to reduce your pain and increase your coping resources. Both are possible.

  26. Well, I don’t want to list my agency here because I still work there and I don’t want people online trying to get in touch with me somehow. But, I will say that I work overnights on a 24/7 completely confidential (no caller ID) crisis hotline twice a week. I do a 7 hour shift from 12 AM-7 AM. I speak to an interesting gamut of people at that hour. I wish I COULD post the name of my agency, because reading through the posts of some of the other people on this website has enraged me and we operate MUCH more effectively over here.

    I have NEVER, EVER heard counseling of such poor quality at my agency and I apologize to all of those who have called crisis hotlines staffed by such insensitive people. I’d like to give you all a little bit of hope: as you will see in my answers to the questions posed, none of this would fly at my agency.

    Did you get appropriate training and re-training at regular intervals on how to respond to callers?

    Yes. I was shocked to see some counselors say that they only received two hour, or two week training courses. At my agency, you go through 8 months of training to work on the hotline. You have to take a class once a week, and each class is on a different topic that we frequently receive calls about (suicide, abortion, LGBT issues, STD/STI, substance abuse, etc…). Our classes were mainly taught by people from other agencies, agencies that specialized in the category, so that we would receive a completely thorough background. These classes also involve roleplays, where we would take fake phone calls and afterwards discuss in supervised groups what we did right/wrong. During the classes, the CIT does listening shifts with other counselors at the crisis center, where they get to listen to how experienced counselors handle phone calls. After the classes end, our CITs (counselors in training) are each paired up with an experienced counselor (usually one of the people they’ve listened to who they get along with), who mentors them and takes the CIT on the phones for the first time. This mentor tells the CIT what to say on their first few calls, eventually letting the CIT handle more and more of their calls by themselves. After a while, the mentor will just listen in and make sure the CIT is using all their different empathetic listening skills effectively and giving out information. The mentors will also go over all of the topics that were learned in the classes again with the CIT, and the CIT has to pass tests about each topic before they are considered to have mastered it. Once the CIT has mastered all the topics and the mentor deems it appropriate, the CIT can take the last step to graduate. All CITs have to pass a final test where a supervisor listens to them take a few phone calls before they are allowed to become counselors.

    We are also supervised on shifts every few months, and our mentors have to pass a specific test to become mentors (I don’t know the exact details of that yet because I’m not qualified to be a mentor at the moment, you also need to have 200+ hours logged at the agency in order to be chosen to be a mentor).

    I am not stretching the truth at all, and if anybody is interested in details about what my agency is you may email me privately at LouiseMWa@aol.com. I began my training in September 2011 and graduated in May 2012. I also had two mentors, the other one to train me on how to handle the overnights.

    Did your supervisors help you deal with burnout or the emotional toll of answering the calls?

    The supervisors here always have their doors open. Granted, since I’m an overnight counselor, there are no supervisors here on the night shift. But, if I ever experienced any sort of burnout or problems, I know that I could easily speak to either the other counselors here (we have about 150 volunteers, all of the ones I’ve met are lovely, and many of them are my friends) or my supervisors. However, we have a strictly enforced confidentiality policy, so I don’t discuss the contents of any of my phone calls with people from outside the agency.

    Was there any program in place to help monitor the quality of your interactions with callers?

    Yes, besides just the mentors listening into calls during the training period, there is a way that we do it. I’d say it works… reasonably effectively. I can’t really discuss what we do without overstepping agency policy (even though I’m keeping my agency private). However, I can tell you this: if me or any of the volunteers I’m close to EVER heard something going on here like some of the horror stories listed in previous comments, we would be up that person’s ass about it, effective immediately. We treat our clients with respect.

    What was your motivation for volunteering in the first place?

    I’ve been at dark points in my life where I felt like if I could just talk to someone who understood I might be able to get through it a little bit better. I enjoy being a non-judgmental ear for people who feel that things are out of control. I am going for my Psy.D, and while I know that I cannot currently provide anybody with a real “therapy” experience, I can at least give them temporary hope or referrals to more long-lasting agencies. I have also learned more about the mind and about therapy working at this agency than I did from all of my undergraduate psychology classes combined. It was a fantastic experience to pursue.

    Again, I apologize to anybody who has had a bad hotline experience. I hope I was able to help you out a little.

  27. I was trained to answer calls on crisis line but called one myself this evening because I was having trouble shaking of some pretty severe anxiety. (Called the one NIMH) I started my call by saying I was not suicidal but was experiencing some pretty severe anxiety. I explained that I had taken a job I loved after a long period of unemployment and was having an out of proportion reaction to a criticism from my boss. I realized that my reaction was illogical but was having trouble controlling my physical symptoms – rapid heart rate, panicky feelings, etc. His sole comments were calm down, don’t be so hard on yourself and relax, all delivered in a bored/hectoring tone. At this point I realized I had more counseling skills than this guy and hung up. After I calmed myself down a bit, I called a friend who has a degree in counseling psychology and we laughed about. The command to relax is about as useful as telling someone to be happy or be smarter. I would have reported him if I could have found a feedback contact.

  28. I’ll preface this by saying that one of the most wonderful, patient counselors I’ve ever spoken to picked up the phone when I was experiencing the most traumatic thing I’d ever been through. Alison, if you’re out there, thank you. You made things bearable.

    That said: It was pure luck, needle-in-a-haystack. I’ve stopped calling hotlines even when in bad, dangerous shape, for all the reasons given above. I wonder, really, what on earth can motivate some of these people to work for crisis lines, when they’re so flat in affect, so impatient, so poorly trained, so self-centered, and just…man, the education and honesty levels are alarming. I actually had one woman offer to go behind my ex-husband’s back — she knew who he was — and manipulate him into doing something or other. I’m sure she was trying to help, but hello, ethics? And confidentiality?

    And then there’s the ones who don’t seem to understand that their value systems and experiences aren’t universal, and they’re there to listen, not to judge.

    The worst of it is that if you’re feeling suicidal, you can’t call and talk about this anymore, because at this point they just see themselves as triage heroes and will zap the cops right over to your place, ta-da, job done. And next thing you know you’re fending off an unnecessary trip to the hospital. There’s no way to say, Yes I’m feeling suicidal, no I’m not going to do anything about it, I just need to talk to someone compassionate and understanding.

    I’m sure the hotlines are viewed as a big public health success, I’m sure they keep several hundred people employed, but in fact I’m thinking they’re a rather substantial fail in implementation.

  29. Several years ago, I discovered my father was seriously suicidal and called the Crisis Hotline because I did not know what to do. As his daughter, I did not have the authority to be able to provide advice or guidance and I was confused. Unfortunately, the woman I spoke to told me to “Just talk to him and tell him how I feel” which to me was completely impossible. If he’d been the kind of person I could “just talk to” about feelings he probably wouldn’t be in the place he was. I called him the next day and told him I was worried about him. He said Don’t worry about me, with a tone of gentle dismissal and closed the conversation. Unfortunately that was the last time I spoke to him. I wish I’d been able to have an action plan at that time because I saw all the signs. I decided to organize an intervention but by that time several days had passed, and it was too late. I don’t blame her because I don’t believe life is so simple and I don’t blame myself; we’re not superheroes who can always save the day. Nevertheless, my experience with the hotline was not positive. Today I am a mental health professional and I still don’t feel like a superhero. Years later, I became a therapist not to try to save lives but to give comfort and support to others as it was given to me during the years of grieving and healing from this terrible tragedy.

  30. I called the national suicide prevention line in a serious time of need. I was crying quite a bit and the woman who answered was not empathetic at all. She asked my name and I told her and she said “Well, Angela, what’s the problem” in an extremely flat and non-empathetic way. I was trying to gather my words whilst crying when she said she would have to hang up soon if I didn’t answer. I know she could hear me crying. I said never mind and hung up. I’m glad I am still here today, but I must say it certainly is not because of the hotline. I will never call again, even if I find myself feeling the way I did that night.

  31. Call a crisis line, the one I volunteer with is exceptional! It is disheartening to hear so many people have had bad experiencing but I feel the exact opposite. Training is amazing and extensive, support staff are very supportive and debreif every call if neccessary. Empathy and support is the most important part of our volunteer training. Please pick up the phone and call. The number of negative experiences on this website seems skewed, pelase try calling a Crisis line for yourself to see if works, everyone has a different experience. 1-800-suicude is great or 310-mental health. Good Luck

  32. I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was 13, and I am currently feeling very depressed. I am under the care of a doctor who is quite wonderful, and the meds are helpful. I have friends who have been with me through and through, but I feel like they are tired of hearing about my
    bouts of depression. They don’t say anything outright, but comments have led me to this conclusion. So I don’t talk about these feelings and suicidal thoughts. Anyway, while looking for blogs by people who are feeling as low as I am, I ended up here. I did call a suicidal hotline once. The volunteer tried. I could tell she meant well, but she suggested that I go out for a hot fudge sundae to get my mind off things! Then she asked me if I was overweight! It was kind of funny to me, not what I was expecting, and probably wouldn’t have helped me if I’d had a gun to my head. I was glad to read that there are hotlines out there that provide their volunteers with such good training.

  33. I just called a suicide hotline because I was having suicidal thoughts. Everything’s been going downhill recently, life seems utterly hopeless, and I can’t remember what feeling okay even feels like. I suffer from severe depression and social anxiety. And tonight, after finding out that I’m probably never going to be employed because, yes, I bombed that last interview, too, I found myself turning to my dog and telling her, “Someone’s going to take care of you when I’m gone.” There was just this fog and I couldn’t see the detail in it, but it was enough for me to feel like I needed to talk to someone. Because I’m always wanting to die, and tonight the urge was stronger than usual.

    So anyway, I call the hotline and get this abrasive voice that says, “Suicide Hotline. This is Lynette”

    And I’ll repeat it again, I’ve got social anxiety. I’m timid more times than not, and feeling like this and being greeted with that voice didn’t exactly bode well, but I soldiered on.

    “Hi,” I said, though quietly.

    “Hello? Is anybody there?”

    “Hello?”

    “You have ten minutes,” she said sharply. “I’m the only one here and there are other people on the line.”

    So, I’m already feeling worthless. I always feel worthless. And like the people around me would be better off if I weren’t here. There are other people more worthy of help. This is obviously still true, and like I said, there was a fog. No solid outlines of a plan.

    “Oh. I’ll let you get to them, then.”

    “Okay.” And she hangs up.

    Like, I said, I had no solid outline for a plan. But she didn’t know that.

    Never again will I call a hotline. My mental state could have been worse, has been worse in the past, and it’s possible that on another day, that kind of acerbic disregard could have driven me right over the edge.

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