The Truth About the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline & CRISISline: Debunking the Myths
Written by Alison Casey and Susan Smyre Haire
Did you know that an agency in the Upstate of South Carolina, Mental Health America of Greenville County (MHAGC), provides telephonic support during behavioral health emergencies for the whole state? In fact, as of December 2019, MHAGC’s call center answers calls from all South Carolina area codes for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
We know reaching out to a mental health crisis hotline or texting service can be daunting, especially when you have no idea what will happen when you begin sharing personal information about yourself, your thoughts, and your actions. And, for veterans, crises can be heightened by their experiences during military service. If you’re a veteran, service member, or caregiver in crisis, these resources can help.
Read on to learn the truth about Lifeline and CRISISline and what happens on the other end of a call.
What exactly is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, CRISISline, and the Veterans Crisis Line? And how do I contact them?
Simply put, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Veterans Crisis Line, and CRISISline are there for ANYONE, ANY TIME and for ANY REASON. These services provide nonjudgmental active listening, information and referrals to local resources, and assistance during a crisis. These services are available 24/7 every day of the year.
You can call the local number (CRISISline) at 864-271-8888 or the national number (Lifeline) at 1-800-273- TALK (8255). You can even text the local service by texting CRISISline to TEXTME (839863). When calling the national number, you will have the option to press 1 to speak with a qualified responder with the Department of Veterans Affairs on the Veterans Crisis Line.
Who works at the Lifeline and CRISISline?
Lifeline and CRISISline workers are comprised of staff and volunteers who care and want to support callers during moments of stress, anguish, and difficulty. Our hotline workers are people like you, people like your friends, family members, grandparents, and neighbors. Our line workers represent the diverse demographic categories in South Carolina, including those associated with age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. The lines are staffed by volunteers and staff members who have completed a minimum of 45 hours of training and an additional 20 hours of mentoring before they take any calls. MHAGC’s crisis center meets the stringent certification standards of the American Association of Suicidology.
Will Lifeline/CRISISline workers even care that I am a veteran?
Yes. Lifeline/CRISISline workers listen to and care for anyone and everyone. If you are a veteran, currently in the military, or a military caretaker or spouse, workers are ready to listen to you.
These services are confidential. You don’t have to give any information about yourself if you don’t feel comfortable in doing so. However, because there are local resources that have services specifically tailored to the needs of veterans, sharing that you are or were in the military may help the worker provide resources that best fit your needs.
How will Lifeline and CRISISline workers react if I tell them I am having thoughts of suicide?
Lifeline/CRISISline workers are highly trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention. If you are having thoughts of suicide, calling Lifeline/CRISISline is a safe place to talk about your thoughts to someone who will listen nonjudgmentally.
If you share that you are in immediate danger, the worker is there to help you brainstorm and help identify a safety plan.
Will anyone find out about me calling?
No. These services are confidential.
Are the police going to come to my house if I call Lifeline/CRISISline? Or will I get sent to jail or a psychiatric hospital? If I’m worried about my safety, what will the line worker do?
Our goal is to help you reduce stress and feel empowered to make healthy decisions.
You will be asked questions regarding your safety, feelings, social situation, and if you have any thoughts of suicide. If you identify that you are in danger, the hotline worker will ask you about accessing emergency services, and/or gather additional contact information to ensure your safety. The phone worker will work with you to create a safety plan if necessary. Having a safety plan for if/when you feel depressed, suicidal, or in crisis can help you start at step one of your safety plan and move through the steps until you feel safe. The line worker will help you brainstorm and identify resources that may be helpful, including professional and emergency providers.
A safety plan that you discuss on Lifeline/CRISISline may include the following steps:
- Recognize your personal warning signs: what thoughts, images, moods, situations, and behaviors indicate to you that a crisis may be developing? Write these down in your own words.
- Use your own coping strategies: list things that you can do on your own to help you not act on urges to harm yourself.
- Socialize with others who may offer support as well as distraction from the crisis: list people and social settings that may help take your mind off difficult thoughts or feelings.
- Contact family members or friends who may help to resolve a crisis: make a list of people who are supportive and who you feel you can talk to when under stress.
- Contact mental health professionals or agencies: make a list of names, numbers and/or locations of clinicians, local emergency rooms, and crisis hotlines. Put the Lifeline number, 1-800-273-8255, into your phone.
- Ensure your environment is safe: have you thought of ways in which you might harm yourself? Work with a counselor to develop a plan to limit your access to these means.
Is my gun going to be taken away if I call Lifeline/CRISISline?
No. If you identify that you have a gun on the premises and are afraid that you will use it to die by suicide, the counselor may brainstorm with you develop a plan in which YOU limit your access to these means.
However, Lifeline and CRISISline have no legal right to confiscate guns or any of your personal property.
What if I am not in a crisis, but just need to talk to someone?
Again, Lifeline/CRISISline workers are there to listen. You do not need to be in a life-or-death situation to call. In fact, most calls are not crisis related. People call to talk about lots of things: substance use, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness, to name a few.
Can I call to get resources?
Yes! Lifeline/CRISISline has an extensive database that workers can use to find resources that fit your needs across the Upstate and South Carolina. You may call for resources at one point and then to talk and have someone listen to you during another call.
Can I call Lifeline/CRISISline about a friend I am worried about?
Yes. You can call Lifeline or CRISISline if you are worried someone you know may be suicidal or homicidal. The workers can make an outgoing call to the person you are worried about if you request it.
I hate talking on the phone. Is there another way to reach a Lifeline/CRISISline worker?
Yes! MHAGC offers CRISISline texting. Texters receive the same services of active listening, resource information, and crisis intervention from the skilled and highly trained workers. Text CRISISline to TEXTME (839863). The Veterans Crisis Line also has texting service: send a text to 838255.