“How do you prepare yourself for a job like that?”
When you are introducing yourself to a new person, it is not long before you are asked “Where do you work?” When I tell them I work as a hotline crisis services specialist, the next question is invariably, “How do you prepare yourself for a job like that?” The answer is training and very specific training.
As a hotline crisis services specialist at the Action Alliance we provide a 24-hour toll-free system of crisis intervention, support, information and referrals for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia via phone (1.800.838.8238 (v/tty), chat or text (804-793-9999). We provide a wide variety of information as well as emotional support and need to be prepared for almost any question.
A lot of training happens before anyone takes a call solo. While development is an ongoing process, in addition to sexual assault and domestic violence, we cover broad topics like anti-racism, homelessness, human trafficking; and underserved populations, such as folks who are LGBTQ+ identified or folk who are incarcerated.
Suicide is one of the many important issues we respond to on the hotline, and today I want to talk more about that issue. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that “suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.” When dealing with the trauma of intimate partner violence or sexual assault, a person’s mental health is impacted and a survivor may contemplate suicide. The ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence cites research saying twenty-nine percent of all women who attempt suicide survived physical assault by their partners. In their white paper, The Psychological Consequences of Sexual Trauma; Yuan, Koss and Stone find that “childhood sexual abuse was associated with an increased risk of a serious suicide even after accounting for the effects of previous psychological problems and a twin’s history of suicidal behaviors (Stratham et al., 1998).” What do these statistics mean for hotlines? It means we get callers who survived violence and are now suffering from suicidal thoughts. It means hotline crisis services responders need to be trained in more than advocacy; we need to be trained in suicide first aid practices.
Several of our hotline staff and an Action Alliance intern had the opportunity to attend Living Works Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) hosted by Richmond Behavior Health Authority.
Living Works encompases the core belief that suicide is an issue for the entire community and that as a universal human problem, suicide should not be the domain of any one discipline or viewpoint. Living Works holds the belief that everyone, working together, can help to prevent suicide in the community.
ASIST is for everyone 16 or older—regardless of prior experience—who wants to be able to provide suicide first aid. By the end of the training, we were better able to understand the ways attitudes affect views on suicide interventions and provide individualized guidance and suicide first-aid to a person at risk. These skills translate beyond the workplace, beyond the hotline and into our everyday lives.
As we go about our work with survivors and in our personal lives as community members, I keep coming back to an often shared quote attributed to multiple sources such as Plato, Philo of Alexandria, Ian MacLaren, John Watson:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
The Hotline Crisis Services Team is comprised of an awesome team of trained staff who work 24/7. The hotline staff is:
Reed Bohn, Erin Cave, Charmaine Francois, Jennifer Gallienne, Mishawn Glover, Jennifer Harrison, Shirnell Lewis, Emily Robinson, Kristin Vamenta, and Carmen Williams
Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.
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