In this blog post, we shall answer the question “what do you do when a suicide hotline fails you?” we will first define suicide and look at the causes of suicide. We shall then look at the suicide hotlines available all around the world.
Finally, we shall discuss the dissatisfaction that might arise from people who have sought help by calling suicide hotlines and what we can do if the call is not helpful in your situation.
Does a suicide hotline help?
Yes, suicide hotlines help. Although there are rising cases of people not getting what they need when they call, they are many alternatives that you can easily access from the internet. Many countries and states have hotline numbers that have translators in different languages.
The hotlines are toll-free and operate 24hrs. They can also refer you to other resources and help, i.e. hospitals or the police. Before looking at the hotlines available and whether they help, let us first discuss what suicide is.
What is suicide?
- Suicide is death caused by injuring oneself and intending to die.
- A suicide attempt is when one harms themselves with an intent to end their life, but they do not die from their actions.
- Suicidal ideation means thinking about suicide or wanting to end your life. They are often called suicidal thoughts.
Many factors can increase or reduce the risk for suicide, i.e. having a supportive family, friends and community reduce suicidal risk. Physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse increase suicidal risk.
Research done on suicide as a public health problem
In the United States, suicide increased by 30% in the year 2000-2018 and reduced in the year 2019-2020. It is the leading cause of death claiming over 45,979 lives in 2020. This means that one person dies by suicide every 11 minutes.
In 2020, it was estimated that 12.2 million people have seriously thought about suicide, 3.2million planned an attempt and 1.2 million attempted suicide. Suicide was the 9th leading cause of suicide among people aged 10-64 and the 2nd leading cause in those aged 10-14 and 25-34.
Which groups have a suicide rate than others?
The most likely groups to have a high suicide rate include:
- People living in rural areas
- Workers of certain industries, like mining and construction
- non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic American Indian/ Alaska natives
- Young people who identify as homosexuals are at a high risk that those who identify as heterosexual
What causes suicide among the youth?
The major causes of suicide among youths include:
- Social isolation
- Poor coping skills
- Changes in the family, i.e. divorce
- Changes in friends
- Psychological disorders i.e depression
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family genetics
- Certain personality traits
- Adverse childhood experiences, i.e child abuse and neglect
Other suicide risk factors that can also affect adults include:
- Living with a chronic illness
- Suffering from a traumatic brain injury
- Stressful life situations
- Sudden stressful situations, i.e. death of a loved one
- Having access to lethal means
- Being exposed to another person’s suicide
- Past suicide attempts
Suicide warning signs that are easy to recognize
Some suicide warning signs are easy to recognize and they include:
- Saying goodbye to family and friends
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless and having no way out
- Talking about dying or wanting to die
- Talking about powerful feelings of guilt and shame
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Talking about not having a reason to live and saying that others are better off without you
- Giving away your things
- Tying loose ends like writing a will
Suicide warning signs that are easy to miss
Some warning signs of suicide are unnoticeable and easy to miss. Even the people close to the victim might not be aware of the turmoil happening to them. Some of these signs include:
Changes in sleeping patterns
A shift in sleep patterns may show depression or suicidal thoughts. The individual may sleep too much and still struggle to wake up in the morning or have restless nights and insomnia and struggle with fatigue the next day. Whether the symptom is a warning sign of suicide or not, it is important to seek help for it.
Unusual change in behaviour
This symptom is easy to overlook, as it is not mainly associated with depression and suicidal tendencies. You might notice that a person who is usually calm, energetic and generous has suddenly become aggressive, angry or withdrawn. Others who seemed to be in a depressed mood and were withdrawn may suddenly become calm and happy and start mingling with others.
Other symptoms include mood swings and excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.
This is another symptom that is overlooked. Be concerned if a loved one is presenting with constant migraines, digestive problems and other body ache without a specific cause. Sometimes depression and thoughts of suicide manifest as physical symptoms.
Losing interest in activities once enjoyed, isolating themselves from people and responding with no emotions to situations are indicators of depression or suicide.
Access to lethal means
This can be an obvious sign, i.e. when someone purchases a gun or a rope. Sometimes, however, it is an unnoticeable sign, especially if the lethal means gained are of material or substances that can be well hidden, like pills or poison. Access to lethal means increases the risk of suicide.
Suicide and crisis intervention hotlines to call and text when you need help
There is a huge debate on the internet about whether suicide hotlines help. The primary aim of suicide hotlines was to reach out to people who are not near facilities which can offer emergency services. They also help victims to seek help immediately in the middle of a crisis with ease.
Before looking at the challenges faced when using a suicide hotline, let us look at the various suicide hotline numbers available globally.
What to know before calling a crisis hotline
- You don’t need to be experiencing a crisis to contact a suicide hotline. You can also reach out if you are feeling sad or anxious and you don’t know who to turn to.
- You can contact the hotlines if you are a relative or a close friend of someone who is having a crisis or is at risk of suicide
- If it is hard to manage for you, it is worth reaching out. Do not be afraid to reach out for worrying that your problem is too trivial to raise concern. Even if the person on the other end might not help, they will provide other resources for people who will help.
Mental health and suicide hotlines
National suicide prevention hotline for Spanish speakers and anyone who is deaf or hard hearing- 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text line – text hello to 741741 (US and UK) and 686868 in Canada. It is text-based and helps those who are not comfortable talking about it in person.
youthline; text teen2teen to 839863, or call 1-877-968-8491. This is for children and adults aged 11-21.
Childhelp National Child Abuse hotline; call or text 1-800-422-4453 it helps with issues related to child abuse, and it offers support in 170 languages or you can chat online with a counsellor
National Domestic Violence Hotline; Text “START” to 88788 or call 1-800-799-7233. They offer support for those experiencing domestic violence and can support over 200 languages and secure private chats with counsellors.
RAINN; 1-800-656-4673. This supports victims of sexual abuse or assault. When you call the main hotline, you will be directed to someone from the local organization in your area who can provide live support or helpful resources. You can also do a live chat with a counsellor.
This list of suicide crisis lines includes all available crisis hotlines in all countries on the continent. You will get connected to one that is close to you.
Disadvantages of suicide hotlines
Many people have gone to social media to complain about how suicide hotlines are unhelpful. u/foralisa asked people to stop endorsing suicide hotlines as she described the receivers as a robot or a wall. She feels that the suicide hotlines don’t give any help and they are just people trained to say, “it sounds like you are going through a tough time” after every pause.
She is also disgruntled by the time limit given to air out your issues and once the time is over, the service provider hangs up. She describes the session as a series of questions asked by the service provider who then hangs up once the time is up. She advises people not to say that they are suicidal because the police will be called on them, something that has happened to her.
Kaley, a 32-year-old struggling with anxiety and depression, googled a suicide hotline number and called. She was having suicidal ideation and although she did not have any plans to go through with it; she felt overwhelmed and couldn’t shale off that feeling.
She, however, said that the service provider asked her to go get her hair and nails done. She felt it was an irresponsible answer, and that she had already tried retail therapy with no success. She then hung up and checked herself into a hospital.
Another victim, Sam, 27, who was struggling with Anorexia Nervosa explained that the person used “parroting” or what is called reflective listening which did not sit well with him. He was then given a link to connect with other people with the same problem, and unfortunately, the link was not working.
He is now reluctant to use the crisis hotlines or recommend anyone to use them.
Some of these examples show that it is possible sometimes to not get the help you feel you need when you are in a crisis. It could be an unanswered call or a lack of resources that are helpful. We will now look at what we can do when a suicide hotline does not help
What to do when a suicide hotline fails you
Remember, a hotline has its limits. Realistically, a hotline cannot offer all the help we need. Hotlines are different and have limitations like being understaffed and undertrained and most of them are overburdened. Sometimes it is not the operators’ fault.
The method Sam referred to as parroting (called reflective listening), is taught by trainers to help the client feel helped and understood. Laureen, 24, another victim said that she feels reflective listening is obtuse and unhelpful. She admits to having self-harmed or self-medicated after the calls and says that training should be done differently.
Tips for keeping yourself safe during a crisis
- Remember that just because you are having thoughts of committing suicide, does not mean that you will lose control and act on your thoughts
- If you have a history of suicidal thoughts, take measures to be in a safe environment like secure any weapons around you or go to a place that can help distract the destructive thoughts.
- Make sure you are not alone with your thoughts
- Go to the hospital if you feel you might be in danger
- Look into local psychiatric care centres
- Create a safety plan whether or not you are in crisis. Write down things to do or places to go when the feelings resurface, it should have contacts of people to call when the feelings resurface.
- Have coping skills at hand, i.e. breathing exercises, journaling, seeing family and friends, watching or listening to comic materials, etc.
We have discussed intensively on what suicide is, the warning signs, and the symptoms and looked at the suicide hotlines. We have also put focus on tips to keep yourself safe during a crisis. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment in the comment section below.
Frequently asked questions: suicide hotline doesn’t help
What are the major risk factors for suicide?
Previous suicide attempts, displaying extreme mood swings, sudden stressful situations, social withdrawal and isolation.
Does asking someone about suicide put the idea in their head?
No, it is actually the best way to identify someone who is at risk of suicide.
Do people ‘threaten’ suicide to get attention?
Suicidal thoughts and attempts are a sign of extreme distress and an indicator that someone needs help. A talk of suicide should not be taken lightly and needs immediate attention.
Laderer A. (September 3, 2019). What do you do when a suicide crisis line fails you? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/crisis-hotline-failed-me#1
Reddit, stop endorsing suicide hotlines. They don’t work. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/offmychest/comments/7n5crc/stop_endorsing_suicide_hotlines_they_dont_work/
Ellis M. E., (September 10, 2019). 5 warning signs of suicidal behaviour that are easy to miss. Retrieved from https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/blog/5-warning-signs-of-suicidal-behavior-that-are-easy-to-miss/
Wikipedia, list of suicide crisis lines. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines