Crisis Hotlines Crucial to Suicide Prevention

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By Jennifer Armstrong

The suicide rate in the United States has increased 24 percent since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report details that the rate has tripled among girls 10 to 14 years old and is up 43 percent among men 45 to 64 years old. To combat these hard numbers, our nation desperately needs a deeper strategic investment in life-saving crisis care.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month--a much needed time to increase recognition of and access to the dependable, in-depth, effective work being done via crisis phone lines and care systems.

Every day, I see the hope crisis hotlines provide to those in need. This care can truly make a pivotal difference to struggling people who consider taking their own lives or to family members urgently seeking advice. As the Director of Crisis Care Services for Centerstone, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit behavioral healthcare providers, my role involves oversight of crisis services, including telephonic crisis intervention for nine local and national hotlines such as the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line, National Suicide Prevention Line, NFL Life Line and targeted numbers for teens and veterans.

Based on that experience, here are three important things to know about crisis care.

Crisis Lines Are the Front Line. Like a soldier keeping watch, hotline professionals are available to provide suicide prevention services 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Callers receive a free risk assessment conducted by the highly trained crisis consultant and a commitment to remain engaged in conversation until safety is established, de-escalating the war inside.

It's More than a Phone Call. Contacting a suicide prevention hotline begins a thoughtful, thorough process of care. Master's level and Licensed Crisis Care Consultants listen then link callers to appropriate services and dispatch a mobile response team for face-to-face assessment when needed. At Centerstone, a clinician follows up with the client within 24 hours of first contact. Select services also offer a mix of telephone, text and in-person follow-up for up to a full year.

Strategic Crisis Care Works. Through a grant provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, 199 individuals who had experienced a suicide-related event were enrolled via hotlines or emergency departments into the Centerstone Crisis High Risk Follow-Up Project. Participants received follow-up calls, safety planning and referral support at one, seven, 14 and 30 days after their incident. The resulting rate of return to emergency rooms was 8 percent, drastically lower than the estimated national average of 31.5 percent. During this pilot program, there were zero occurrences of suicide deaths among the enrollees.

Indeed, crisis hotlines and care systems are due increased attention and government funding. They save overall costs and, far more importantly, save precious lives. A client of the National Suicide Prevention Line, referring to the person who took the call, said, "If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be here."

That's why we're all here. If you or someone close is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call Centerstone's 24-Hour Crisis Hotline now at 800-681-7444.

Jennifer Armstrong is Director of Crisis Care Services for Centerstone (, a national, not-for-profit healthcare organization based in Nashville, Tennessee. She received a 2016 Health Care Heroes honor from Nashville Business Journal.

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