Suicide prevention is not about death and dying, people standing on the edge of a cliff and looking down. No, it is about life and living and exploring options, helping people get through those difficult times that come to almost everyone.
For as we have learned over the past 30 years answering over 1 million calls from people in crisis on Samaritans 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, everybody needs a helping hand at some point in their life and, when they do, it is important to know that someone is there. Someone who will listen and take them seriously, someone who will respond without making judgments, someone who will hold their hand when they feel alone.
This is the work of the tens of thousands of men and women who staff the over 600 crisis hotlines throughout this country, many of them un-paid volunteers who devote their time and effort helping people get through their darkest hours; and is especially true for the 120 volunteers who work on Samaritans hotline in NYC, where every day is September 11 for somebody.
Suicide hotline work is much different than most people imagine. There is actually something very life-affirming about working on a hotline, something empowering in learning that it is okay to not know exactly what to say, to not have the answers, to not necessarily even understand the questions. Because it isn’t answers people in crisis are looking for, it’s support and acceptance and respect—the unconditional love that psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross talked about but so few people seem to understand or practice.
“Have great respect for that which you do not know,” said the wise Chinese philosopher Lao Tse about understanding our place in the world, with Shakespeare reminding us that “there is more to life than can be dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”
September 10 is International Suicide Prevention Day and, in NYC, September has been declared Suicide Awareness Month.
As we consider the latest CDC statistics that show suicide is increasing in this country, with more Americans dying from suicide than from car accidents, we are reminded that the keys to helping people can be found in our acceptance, humanity and humility; a point emphasized to future hotline counselors on their first day of Samaritans training when they are told:
You don’t solve other people’s problems for them, it is hard enough to handle your own. You don’t save another person’s life, you help him or her get though a moment, this moment, now!”