As the pandemic continues, HelpLine wants the public to know it continues to operate 24/7, and the organization is available to assist individuals in crisis.
Sarah Jefferson, the suicide prevention program manager at HelpLine, said the organization has remained busy during the pandemic as calls to its crisis hotline have increased. Jefferson said that since the pandemic started, HelpLine has had an uptick in calls, and it is now answering around 1,640 calls a month on average.
“The greatest thing about Helpline is that it’s open 24/7,” Jefferson said. “We’re noticing we’re having more calls in the middle of the night, and I think a lot of that is just due to isolation and being alone and needing someone to talk to. We’ve noticed that a lot of the conversations are just people really want someone to talk to about the crisis that they are in.”
Jefferson said when the pandemic started, HelpLine quickly reconfigured programs and procedures to allow staff to work remotely and allow all its usual programs, including the crisis hotline and support groups, to continue uninterrupted.
“I’m extremely proud of how HelpLine adjusted to the times,” Jefferson said. “We all got programs running virtually. We adjusted it to a different kind of climate, in terms of how we serve our clients. We adjusted everything and made it work.”
Jefferson added the organization actually learned more efficient ways to do certain programs, and HelpLine will continue certain policies after the pandemic because they are more accessible.
Since the start of the pandemic, Jefferson said HelpLine has seen more and more crisis calls related to rent, adding what a “crisis” is varies for everyone.
Jefferson said after an individual calls the hotline, they are given a list of referral options. Anyone who mentions suicidal intentions will be followed up on to make sure they get the help they need.
“We do try and stay connected with them and make sure they do get to the resources,” Jefferson said.
HelpLine has also seen an increase in suicides. Jefferson added there have been 13 suicides so far this year, an increase over eight suicides in the same time period last year and six in the same time period in 2019.
“I would call that an increase,” she said. “This year has been rough. This year honestly has been rougher than last year … The prolonged isolation I think would be a big contributor.”
Jefferson said in an average year, the most common demographic for suicidal individuals is middle-aged men, but a majority of suicides this year have involved people under the age of 30. Jefferson said it’s important to connect and reach out to individuals in crisis.
“One of the biggest things we talk about when we talk about suicide prevention and keeping people safe is keeping them connected,” Jefferson said. “There’s been a lot of disconnect. That’s why I’m so grateful that we offer the 24-hour resource.”
Jefferson emphasized that help is out there for suicidal individuals and any other person in crisis by calling 1-800-684-2324 or texting “helpline” to 898211. The lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are free and confidential.
When it comes to difficult questions, Jefferson said people should not be afraid to talk to people they are worried about.
“The biggest thing is not being scared to ask the direct question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’” Jefferson said. “If you ask the direct question, you can actually lower someone’s psychological distress that they’re are having in that moment.”
Jefferson added that it’s also important for struggling people to know they aren’t alone.
“If you’re someone struggling, the biggest thing is knowing that you’re not alone, and what you’re feeling is just temporary and you can get the help you need,” Jefferson said. “Taking that step to get yourself help is sometimes easier said than done, that’s why it’s important for individuals who see someone struggling to try and reach out to them. The worst thing we can do in these situations is not do anything. The best thing you can do is if you’re not comfortable asking that person, find someone who is. Making sure that person isn’t left alone is the biggest thing.”
Jefferson said there are other resources available other than HelpLine, and individuals can call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Jefferson added struggling LGBTQ youth can reach The Trevor Project at 1-800-488-7386 or by texting START to 678-678.
Additionally, Jefferson said the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656 HOPE (4673).
More information about HelpLine and its resources can be found at helplinedelmor.org.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.