Helpline volunteers needed amid increase in suicide attempts during pandemic

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At 24, Esperanza Torres gave herself an ultimatum: she would get a job and start her career a year after graduating from college or she would kill herself.

It may seem like an extreme decision to some, but Torres didn’t come to this life or death ultimatum overnight.

Torres said she struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life. Although she has sought help with thoughts of self-harm, the Salinas woman still shows symptoms of depression.

Torres is not alone.

Millions of Americans struggle with thoughts of suicide and depression. During the pandemic, calls for help poured into the Central Coast Suicide Prevention Service.

As the demand for help grows, organizations like Suicide Prevention Services need more volunteers for suicide helplines. These services are designed to prevent and treat thoughts of suicide while also guiding people to the help they need.

“A stereotype may be that it’s all in your head, that you can just flip a switch to get rid of it, but the more I suppressed it the more it happened,” Torres said. “It wasn’t until I finally reached out and got help from a psychology professor, who said I was having panic attacks, that I thought, wow … I can. have something diagnosed. “

To liberate oneself

For Torres, his struggles began with social and family pressure at a young age. She was diagnosed with dyslexia and often struggled with school.

Watching her siblings embark on successful careers, Torres said she feels the increasing pressure from her parents.

“I felt so worthless. I was terrified of the future and just didn’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do, ”she said.

In the months after graduating from college, Torres struggled to find even the most basic jobs.

Torres said she planned several ways to kill herself, but finally stopped thinking about the impact it would have on her family.

Eventually she landed the job of her dreams and things seemed to be going better for a few years.

“That’s when I learned to express these thoughts, to just focus on the job and let things fall into place because if that’s not the end, then it’s not. is not finished, ”she said.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world and disrupted everyone’s lives, things started to take a dark turn for Torres again.

As millions of Americans were made redundant during the shelter-in-place, Torres had to work more for less due to understaffing at his workplace. She recently decided to quit her job fearing long term stress would turn into something she wouldn’t be able to handle.

“I was getting lost in the middle of those days and it was always something on my mind,” she said. “But as they say in any motivational speech, you are your first obstacle. Of course, there are other things, but the first thing to overcome is yourself.

With time and soul-searching, Torres said she was one of the lucky people who were able to get out of a dark place. For those who still face the same challenges, she said something as simple as having the right people to talk to can make all the difference.

A voice of reason

In recent years, people have taken to social media platforms in a move to end what they say is a stigma behind mental health.

Noah Whitaker, a suicide prevention consultant, explained that de-stigma has made people less reluctant to seek help.

“In the first year of the pandemic, we saw a drop in suicide deaths. In times of tragedy, this is actually not uncommon,” he said. “Communities came together even though we were socially distancing ourselves. ”

So far this year, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department has reported 38 suicide deaths. This number is down from 56 in 2020 and 46 in 2019.

However, the fight is not over.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency rooms across the country saw a 31% increase in visits for mental health emergencies, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control Prevention.

It was mostly among 12 to 17 year olds.

Suicide Prevention Services Program Director Carly Memoli explains that the helpline’s goal is to provide a safe and more comfortable place for people to talk to trained people.

“These are really people who help people and a lot of these students are psychology students or people who want to do something with skills like these in their future,” Memoli said. “Part of the goal is to send fewer mental health crisis calls to emergency departments and send them to places like us.”

Although overall suicide rates in California have declined over the past year, Memoli says the volume of calls and suicide attempts by young people and working-age adults are on the rise.

This reconstruction shows that a person in distress can get help through a phone call.

“During the pandemic, we got more calls from people who were experiencing intimate partner violence or child abuse or who maybe just didn’t have another safe space to talk about things,” a- she declared. “They don’t want to live the way they are right now. They need something to change. They want the pain to stop and it’s hard for people to see any other way when they are in a high emotional state.

Memoli said they are currently understaffed with just 60 active volunteers. The national lifeline is moving to a three-digit number (988) similar to 911 by July 2022, and they will need to at least double their volunteer numbers.

Whitaker and Memoli say they expect an increase in call volume in the first year after activating the national helpline.

“A lot of people have exhausted their coping systems and support systems as well as a lot of federal and state supports that no longer exist,” Whitaker said. “It might be a more difficult year in 2022.”

Volunteer training begins October 7 and ends December 16. Volunteers are trained to handle everything from low risk situations to high risk situations where emergency response is required.

To learn more and to apply as a volunteer, visit www.suicidepreventionservice.org or call (831) 459-9373

For those who need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, all identification for California students in Grades 7-12 and College must have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number.  A proposal included in the recommendations of a Wisconsin legislative task force on suicide prevention would also require student cards to include the numbers for the suicide prevention hotline.


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