How to Save a Life

Sep. 8, 2015

A photograph of How to Save a Life

Suicide prevention continues beyond the first call for help

Each time the phone rings, a life is on the line.

The calls come in from people in despair, who see no way out of their misery and
 so have decided to end it.

Yet some part of them holds on to a bit of hope that someone or something can stop them from the finality of suicide, and so they call.

At Centerstone, a crisis services counselor talks them through these darkest of hours, to live another day.

That is what a crisis hotline does. When necessary, Centerstone does even more.

A typical crisis service is about taking calls. Our High-Risk Follow-Up Project is about making calls ,” says Rachel Cantrell, counselor and team leader for Centerstone’s follow-up services.

“When we determine that a caller is at high risk to harm themselves or others, we provide intervention, help them create a crisis management plan to stay safe, and then keep working through that plan with them.”

About half of the callers to the crisis line are classified high-risk enough to get a follow-up call in 24 hours.

One in every 11 Tennessee high schoolers attempts suicide.

The program extends that to a series of regular check-in calls — at least once a week for the next 30 days.

The goal is to get the caller into treatment, and each follow-up call allows the Centerstone crisis consultant to encourage those tough next steps, address fears and offer much-needed support in fighting those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

“We want to encourage recovery and resilience,” says Cantrell.

When a veteran asks for help

Suicide rates have risen across the board in the past
 10 years, with sharp increases among military veterans (50 percent higher than the rate
 of civilian suicides).

For some the issue may be related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Others may find the transition to civilian life difficult, even if they never experienced combat.

This recent spike in the number of military suicides led Centerstone to set up a crisis line dedicated solely to veterans and their families as part of its Courage Beyond program.

All counselors get training that helps them understand military culture and learn how to engage a caller who has served.

There have been more than 1,400 calls to this line since its inception, and nearly 50 people have been successfully referred to the High-Risk Follow-Up Project.

Long-term survival

“We want callers to get the help they need, and that doesn’t stop with us,” says Cantrell.

“Our call center is a launching point for those with suicidal thoughts to find the courage to invest in their emotional well-being and walk toward recovery.”

Cantrell and her colleagues have seen that difficult transformation take hold
 in those crucial 30 days of follow-up.

“We saw several people walk out of their very dark periods. They were despondent, but they knew they would get a call from us,” she says.

“Many people have told us that this service saved their lives.”

Read more about programs helping Tennessee adults through difficult times with Welcome Home of Chattanooga.