Crisis centers provide voice in the dark

BY AMANDA ALLER
Managing Editor

A confluence of despair, desperation and sadness can be enough to drive anyone to a dangerous mental state and here at The County College of Morris and beyond there are services being offered around the clock for those who are in crisis.

Mental health continues to be a pressing issue for young and old people alike and at CCM the Counseling Services Office, located in Room 118 of the Student Community Center, provides support for students year round.

“In the event that a student is in crisis on campus… one of us would be the one to address that crisis,” said John Urgola, a counselor at the Counseling Services Office. “The objective is not to treat someone for a long period of time. If someone needs additional long-term care we have a lot of community resources available for them.”

The office can refer students to therapists for additional help outside of CCM, since the counseling available here is meant to be short term.

“Everything is confidential,” Urgola said. “We are bound by the ethics of our profession and the law to maintain confidentiality with the exception of a few rare instances. Primarily, those instances are if that person presents a risk to others or themselves.”

But for the times when the campus services are unavailable there are a slew of local and non-local numbers that offer assistance 24 hours a day across all seven days a week.

St. Clare’s Hospital in Dover has a Psychiatric Emergency Service

Assessment, crisis intervention, and referrals for people in crisis, available 24 hours a day at (973) 625-0280. Morristown Memorial Hospital offers Psychiatric Emergency Services at (973) 540-0100 as does Newton Medical Center at (973) 383-0100.

Nationally, for those who are at their breaking point there is The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-8255. While many of these support lines offer gateways to further help, all provide an ear to those who need it most.  

CCM graduate Laura Jacobson volunteered at a suicide prevention lifeline, giving her insight and advice in helping people who are struggling with mental illness.

“I think knowing that you helped somebody through some kind of crisis or even knowing that you’re the one person that they can talk to,” Jacobson said. “They don’t have family or friends, so they just need somebody to talk to when it comes to everyday things and it feels really good knowing that you’re just, there.”

According to Jacobsen, there was also frustration at not being able to help more.

“Knowing that you can’t truly help [is the worst part],”Jacobsen said. “You’re not allowed to give advice and we have to remain neutral because we’re a listening hotline and we’re not therapists. We don’t know if they’re telling the truth so we don’t want to give them advice without really knowing what’s going on. But we can be there to help them figure it out.”

Jacobson works in a call center at an undisclosed location, which usually has two people volunteering at a time to speak with callers.

The range of callers is vast, Jacobson said and she has fielded calls from people as young as 11 and as old a 70.  She’s talked to veterans and people with significant hearing loss.

“Typically for veterans we refer them to a separate hotline specifically for them where the listeners usually are veterans so they’re better suited for the callers needs.” Jacobson said. “We also have a texting hotline so I think people who are having hearing problems or are just shy usually do that.”

But adapting to the variety in patrons as well as handling the delicate situations takes tact and training. In order to become qualified to volunteer for the lifeline, there’s an initial application that needs to be sent in following extensive training that’s 50-70 hours a week and involves learning about different kinds of mental disorders, the effects that drugs have on the brain, and how to talk to someone who’s on drugs.

“And that’s not even getting to the suicide part yet.” Jacobson said. “Then we go through a weekend which is 16 hours, 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock on Saturday and Sunday. That involves learning how to talk somebody out of committing suicide and you get a license at the end.”

After all of that work, the payoff is sometimes dampened by the disrespect of a vocal minority.

“We get a lot of prank phone calls and that really upsets me because these are people who don’t get paid to do what they do and I think to take advantage of a really good thing like that is really messed up,” Jacobson said. “That’s taking time away from people who really need it.”

Ultimately, Jacobsen said the reward is worth it.

“It’s really nice to go home at the end of the day and feel like you saved someone’s life or you made someone smile, who desperately needed that. I had someone say to me ‘I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t picked up the phone.’” Jacobson said. “There’s no better cure for sadness or feeling like you’re unworthy than that. It’s an incredible feeling.”

The misconception about her work, Jacobson said, is people’s belief that to help someone who is suffering, you need to understand exactly how they’re feeling and what they’re going through. “We all understand what it’s like to feel lonely, to feel like nobody cares. We all understand what it’s like to feel like we don’t have any worth. We all understand what those feelings are like and that’s what we need to relate to. If you can understand how that felt to you, you can understand what that person is feeling.” Jacobson said. “Just convey to them that you get it.”

Through her time working for the suicide prevention hotline, Jacobson said she learned some solid advice when it comes to mental health.

“There’s always someone out there that cares. I care. Everybody that works there cares,” Jacobsen said. “There’s always help out there and people volunteering at the lifeline aren’t going to judge you for feeling a certain way.”

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