At the beginning of 2019, I had a lot going on. Mainly, I had gone through not one but three breakups (ethical non-monogamy), including the partner I had purchased a house with and had been living with for two and a half years. It was a shock to my system, and my already-struggling mental health plummeted for a brief period. In this time, suicide was on my mind a lot. I thought about it for weeks and even made loose plans before I caught myself and decided I needed a direct intervention. I logged on to an online suicide hotline.
How do you know it’s time to contact a suicide hotline?
This wasn’t my first time feeling suicidal. I actually dealt with it a lot in the past, but I never before contacted a suicide hotline. I guess I always tried to rationalize it in my head, saying it wasn’t serious enough of a problem to warrant calling or logging on to a hotline chat. I, like many suicidal people, felt that it wasn’t “worth it.” I figured someone else needed the help more than me. But this time, I realized that thinking like that was a symptom of being suicidal in the first place.
Almost everyone who needs the services of a suicide hotline thinks that someone else needs it more. I’m here to tell you that if you think you might need a suicide hotline YOU ABSOLUTLEY SHOULD REACH OUT. You don’t have to be in an immediate life or death situation to call. You don’t even have to have formed an actual plan to call. In fact, it’s far easier to prevent suicide when the person reaches out before that point. The sooner you reach out, the easier it’s going to be to get the help you need.
What happens in the suicide hotline chat?
If you’ve been thinking about reaching out to a suicide hotline or chat room, you might be nervous. It can be scary to put yourself out there in such a vulnerable state but keep in mind that the person on the other side of the conversation has been trained to work with you in this exact state of mind. Connecting to the suicide hotline chat, for me, was taking a dive into a scary conversation I wasn’t sure how to have but it was guided by the professional, and it was way easier than I could have imagined. Here’s what happened in my online chat, to give you an idea about what to expect:
- There will be waiting: Be prepared to wait for a little bit, especially if you’re opting to use online services over a phone service. These services see a lot of incoming requests and it’s natural that they get busy at times. It’s important to hang in there during this time and try to distract yourself by focusing on something to pass the time. (Try keeping your hands busy with a toy or something that can provide a sensation, like holding something cold or soft.) My initial wait to get into the chat system was about 20 minutes. It isn’t the most fun 20 minutes and I definitely thought about clicking out of the window, but I stuck with it and I’m glad I did.
- Demographic questions: I was prompted at this time to answer some demographics questions about where I was, how old I was, etc. I needed to provide a ZIP code at this time. Questions were simple to answer and I noted that they were gender-inclusive and LGBT friendly. Then I joined another queue.
- Connecting with someone: This second queue was shorter–maybe five minutes–and I got to speak to a chat agent this time. My chat agent was really understanding, let me speak without interruptions, and asked engaging questions to keep the conversation focused on a resolution. They were realistic, honest, and didn’t try to minimize my pain. We discussed self harm and the fact that I had a therapy appointment already scheduled. They had me invite a friend over for the evening so I wouldn’t be alone and listed distracting things I could do until that friend arrived. By the end of the conversation, I felt better having made a reactive plan to my suicidal urges. I felt safe, thanked my support agent, and closed the chat window.
What happens after contacting a hotline?
The hotline will almost always make a plan of action for you to get more support before hanging up. Because these lines are not intended to be used for long-term psychological care, it’s important that you find psychological services near you. The chat agents can assist with this if you need help. They will likely want to know that you’ll be seeing a friend, counselor, or other mental health professional before you disconnect to ensure your safety. It’s important to follow up with your plan of action after disconnecting from a hotline. Call your support system, make any necessary appointments for therapy or medication changes, and be sure to follow up with your therapist or doctor about the suicidal urges you experienced. They will be able to give you the long-term care you need to prevent future suicidal urges.
What if I still don’t feel safe?
The goal of the chat or phone line is to keep you safe in the brief moment of suicidal urges. Sometimes, the chat might not be enough to help you on its own. If you’ve ended the chat and still don’t feel safe, don’t hesitate to join again for more support, call to speak to someone on the phone, or reach out to a friend for in-person support. If these options aren’t working, your next step is to go to your local emergency room or call 911.
Phone (English): 1-800-273-8255
Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454
Deaf & HoH: 1-800-799-4889
My website has a section for suicide prevention under the “resources” tab at the top of the screen. If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to use the services there.