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Suicide hotline calls increase after death of Robin Williams

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

PUBLIC SAFETY: The suicide prevention hotline CONTACT We Care said today that it has had a surge in calls since the suicide of Robin Williams.

This mirrors an increase in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which received the greatest number of calls in its history the day after the actor/comedian hanged himself.

“Call volume goes up after a suicide makes the news,” said Joanne Oppelt, executive director of CONTACT We Care , a caring and listening line and suicide prevention trainer headquartered in Westfield and a listening hub in Morristown.

“We get more calls relating to suicide, both from people in crisis as well as people who are concerned about others,” she said.

“Suicide can be contagious, especially if it is sensationalized,” Oppelt said. “People who are already thinking of suicide may be triggered and their thoughts become more intense.”

Just this morning, a troubled 19-year-old Park Ridge woman was struck by a passenger train near the Montvale border after authorities said she lay down on the tracks ( SEE: Montvale woman, 19, struck and killed by train in Park Ridge in suicide ).

* * * * * *

CONTACT We Care serves North and Central 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 .

HOURS: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. All calls are free, anonymous and confidential. SEE: www.contactwecare.org

* * * * * *

The hotline’s volunteer listeners also interact with those in distress through texts. Those who would prefer this option, including teenagers, should text “CWC” to 839863 Monday through Friday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. All calls and texts are confidential.

“The number one risk factor for suicide is social isolation while the number one protective factor is social connection,” Oppelt said. “ CONTACT We Care exists to provide social connection.

“The key is prevention,” she said. “So it is important that we be here anytime a person wants to make a connection with another human being.”

People show a decrease in feelings of emotional distress and suicide both during and following calls to a crisis listening hotline, according to research cited by Oppelt.

At the end of the call, callers reported decreased feelings of confusion, anger, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness – all factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts, she said.

In addition, there were continuing decreases in crisis states, hopelessness and psychological pain in the following weeks, she added.

CONTACT We Care relies on more than 200 volunteers to staff its listening lines and texting services, fielding more than 14,000 cries for help each year. It is always looking for new volunteers, Oppelt said.

Volunteers undergo 36 hours of instruction in empathetic and nonjudgmental active listening and mental health issues. They also complete two-day intensive training on suicide intervention. That 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.

The next training begins Sept. 10.

INFO: Contact Sue Fasano, director of programs, at 908.301.1899 or  or sue.fasano@contactwecare.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.

“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,” Oppelt said. “In addition, one in four people will experience some form of mental health issue during the course of a year, including depression.

“It is vital that people in crisis have someplace to call where they can find an empathetic ear to help them see they have options.”

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