Suicide prevention hotline and trainer CONTACT We Care will be offering its next round of training for volunteer listeners beginning Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 7:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Westfield, 170 Elm Street. The training program meets once weekly for 12 weeks.
CONTACT We Care relies on more than 200 volunteers to staff its listening lines and texting services and the hotline is always looking for new volunteers, according to Sue Fasano, director of programs at the hotline. They answer about 14,000 calls and texts each year.
"Our volunteers are our very core and we could not possibly be here for our callers and texters without their generosity," Fasano said. "Every 13.7 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide, including 4,600 young people, and for every one suicide there are 25 attempts. In addition, since the death of Robin Williams by suicide we have seen an increase in the volume of calls we are receiving.
"Our volunteers make a real difference in the lives of so many people who are in crisis, be it temporary or ongoing."
Volunteers undergo 50 hours of instruction in empathetic and nonjudgmental active listening and mental health issues and go through a two-day intensive session on suicide intervention called ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Training is followed by an internship on the lines with experienced listeners. There is a fee for materials of $75 and volunteers are asked to commit to eight hours on the lines per month for a at least one year.
People who might think about volunteering to be a listener but are unsure of their ability to handle such a responsibility should not be concerned, according to Fasano. Volunteers come from all backgrounds and age groups and the vast majority had no training in suicide prevention prior to volunteering. Some had their lives touched by suicide in some way but most simply want to help others in need, Fasano said.
“When you are on the line with someone who is depressed or suicidal, you walk away grateful you’re not making that call and grateful you can be there for them,” said volunteer Laurie Feinberg. "You can’t give anyone anything better than being a caring, empathic listener.”
Hotline volunteers report a sense of accomplishment, as well.
“It’s been the most rewarding experience I could ever have imagined," said volunteer Fran McTernan. "Every time you pick up the phone you are going to help someone. Being a listener has given my life meaning.”
CONTACT We Care often receives messages from callers or texters who have been helped.
“I just wanted to send a message to thank you all for the work that you do," wrote one caller. "I was a distraught 15-year old when I made the call some years ago. The counselor that I spoke to over the phone saved my life."
“I wanted to say thank you," wrote a texter. "Without you I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have went to the mental health and got help. I decided I really don’t want to die. I wanted these bad feelings to die, not everything else.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener or texter at CONTACT We Care and wanting to register for the training should contact Fasano at 908.301.1899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT We Care also provides training to members of the public in suicide awareness and prevention, active listening, mental health first aid and preventing teenage suicide. Anyone interested in learning more about or scheduling training also should contact Fasano.
CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach CONTACT by dialing 908-232-2880 or texting “CWC” to 839863.
About CONTACT We Care
CONTACT We Care, headquartered in Westfield and with a listening hub in Morristown, is Central and Northern New Jersey’s crisis listening line, receiving more than 17,000 calls per year. CONTACT brings comfort and hope to people in emotional distress through active, empathetic and nonjudgmental listening. All calls are free, anonymous and confidential. If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call our hotline at 908-232-2880. We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the American Association of Suicidology. For general information about CONTACT We Care or to become a volunteer, call us at 908-301-1899 or visit our website at www.contactwecare.org.