[Serious] Suicide hotline operators of Reddit, what is it like? : AskReddit

allthingsleadhere [+1] 
I can’t believe I finally have some insight into an askreddit question. Good day.
  1. I didn’t realize how much training I would need to go through. I’m glad there was a lot of training, but I just wasn’t expecting it since it was a volunteer thing (I worked at the Crisis Center suicide line)
  2. I didn’t realize that not every call is a suicide call. Sometimes people would call because they were depressed, in an abusive relationship, being bullied, lonely, etc. We had one schizophrenic who would call 20+ times a day and we were told that we had to hang up on him because he was only allowed one call per shift. That was heartbreaking. Most ppl don’t realize that schizophrenia is not really multiple personalities. Usually it’s hearing voices in your head. This guy would just repeat the same line every time he called “I’ve got to fill out the papers or they’re going to come get me.” (they = voices in his head)
  3. It made me realize how many people are “faking it” in the real world. You think everyone around you is happy and doing fine, but a lot are not. I would ask people if they had told anyone that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts and almost everyone would say no.
  4. Like howaytl says below, we aren’t allowed to give advice. We are supposed to ask questions to get at the root of the problem, and allow the callers to come up with the solution themselves. We’re like Samwise Gamgee. Frodo is the one who must destroy the ring, but Sam is there the whole time guiding him along the way to Mordor.
  5. Here are two stories that had the biggest impact on me.
(1) This girl in her senior year in high school called and as soon as I answered the phone my stomach dropped. She was screaming and crying. I went through the general questions. She told me that she was being bullied online by her high school “friends” and they had turned their back on her. She hadn’t told her parents. She was alone in the house and she said she was going to kill herself. My eyes were tearing up at this point and my stomach felt sick. I did not feel qualified. After talking with her for a little over an hour (we’re supposed to keep calls at 20 min or less) I found out that she was the star soccer player, the valedictorian, and had been accepted into her top colleges (which her friends hadn’t). I said do you think maybe these “friends” were just jealous? And she stopped crying and said yeah that might be it. We talked for a while about all that she has going for her, and that she would soon be out of high school. And I’ll never forget this. At the end she said “I’m so glad you of all people picked up. I feel like you really get me. I would have killed myself tonight if you hadn’t answered.” That was the 2nd time in my life that I ever felt proud of myself (the first was when I got my first paycheck). Not the kind of pride where you want to tell everyone, but the quiet kind where you just want to keep it to yourself. Like I couldn’t stop smiling on my ride home. That call stuck with me.
(2) This one girl would call a few times a week. At first she wouldn’t talk to any of us. She would call everyday and just not say anything. So we would sit there in silence for 20 minutes and say “When you’re ready, we’re here for you.” And then we would have to say goodbye at the 20 minute mark. At first, she did that same thing with me. But, over time, she started saying a few words. It was the cutest thing. I would say “Have you ever heard of this show?” and she would wait for a second or two and then say, “You watch that? That’s a really dumb show.” in a playful tone of voice. Over time, she opened up more and more until she was talking more than me.
She was precious. She was in high school. Her only friend wasn’t really a friend. This girl who called – I’ll call her Sam – cut herself regularly and the other friend knew and would poke fun at her for it. I’m not kidding. One time she called when the other friend was in the room and I heard her making fun of Sam for calling the suicide line. But everytime she called I would just talk with her about her favorite music, favorite tv shows, whether the cyberbullying was getting better, was she still cutting, etc. And she started calling and asking for me because she said I was different. She said that she felt like I actually cared. She was being bullied online as well, but she would just laugh and giggle the whole time we were on the phone. She would ask when I was coming in next, etc. She was really cool. I really felt like she was a friend. But it breaks my heart because I moved away unexpectedly without getting a chance to tell her and I still wonder if she calls asking for me.
The first two stories make me look good so I thought I should add in this last one. One time an older lady called, and I went through the script and she just did not like me. At all. She asked if she could hang up, call again, and if I could be sure someone different answered haha. It makes me laugh now, but I felt really bad at the time. EDIT: she actually called back later that night and told the volunteer who answered to tell me that she was sorry.
One last thing. The hardest thing for me was at the end when we had to hang up, and the callers suddenly remembered that we weren’t really their “friends” as in we weren’t real friends that could go get ice cream that afternoon or stay up prank calling with them, etc. You know, that this was our “job” and that we did this all day, etc. It’s hard to explain but I dreaded goodbyes because I always had to bring them up, and it made me feel like a phony. That’s why I could never cut them off at the 20 min mark. I wanted them to feel special and loved. And I truly did care about every single person that called. I wish I could have hugged every single one of them and taken them out to dinner and followed up with them, etc.
EDIT: The comment from howaytl below is spot on for a typical night. I had forgotten about sex calls – people who call just to masturbate to the sound of your voice. We specifically went over those in training. One of the volunteers said this guy called and said that a snake had bitten his foot. He asked her to describe her feet so he could see if he needed to get some help. After about a minute she noticed some heavy breathing and she came to her senses and said that she was going to have to hang up on him. Pretty gross. Like just watch some porn or something.
HOW I GOT INVOLVED: For the people asking how to get involved, I just looked up “suicide call centers near insert location and found a crisis center that was 10 minutes away, went to their website, filled out the online application, went in for a short interview, completed the lecture training, and then completed my shadowing hours. Just because it’s a process don’t be overwhelmed. Just take the first step: fill out an online application. They’ll guide you through the rest of the steps so you don’t have to worry about anything. You’re already on the internet, so it’s no inconvenient. Just see where it takes you.

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