Last night a close friend wrote something that seemed like a cry for help. Based on previous encounters over the past few months — and after talking to several of our mutual friends — I called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1 800 273 8255) to see what I could do from the East Coast to help my friend on the West Coast.
It was not a good experience.
First, I listened to an automated message that told me that I would be patched through to my closest available crisis center. I live in Washington DC. The woman who answered the phone was in Virginia.
I explained that I was not suicidal, but I had a friend on the West Coast who possibly was. I asked for how best to help my friend and for the numbers of local resources I could touch base with for guidance. I wanted guidance on how best to proceed. I wanted to know what to do.
I was told that this crisis center only had resources available for local people and to “Google resources” to help him. I explained that there was only one National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and that it patched me through locally — and that I did not know whether a number would be listed for a local office near my friend.
"Google it," the woman replied.
I’m computer-literate and routinely conduct complicated searches for my job. That’s definitely not the norm, but that’s not even the point here. The point is that I called a hotline — a suicide hotline! — to receive immediate assistance, for a friend I thought was in peril. And I was instead told to search for the information I needed.
I was able to get in touch with my friend, after about an hour. We’re trying to get him help. I’m very tired and very concerned, and gratified for all of the random folk who offered suggestions last night on Twitter. It was more useful — and more immediate — than the hotline.
FOLLOWUP: The Hotline reached out in an extremely professional and effective way. Here’s what I wrote about it. Here’s what I think about it: People made mistakes. This was a mistake. There’s going to be some retraining. I’m happy with this. Crisis counseling is a really stressful job and I appreciate the people who do it. I’m always happy and proud of organizations who say “We’re sorry. Here’s what we’re going to do to fix it.” And that’s what happened here. So kudos all around.