MOUNT VERNON — Having the courage to reach out for help in the midst of an emotional crisis is the first step toward recovery.
Recognizing when depressed thoughts and feelings evolve into suicidal thoughts as an emergency, calling for emergency help for yourself or someone else is critical if there is a threat of anyone being hurt.
Anyone who finds themselves in a situation where someone is considering harming himself, reaching out for help for that person is not a betrayal. Ultimately, you may be saving their life by taking their threats to hurt or kill themselves seriously.
Emergency personnel are trained to protect the safety and dignity of those having suicidal thoughts. Their No. 1 priority is to help the person in crisis and keep them safe.
Moundbuilders Guidance Center staff are often called upon by emergency personnel and medical personnel in Knox County to provide support to people experiencing suicidal thoughts or an emotional crisis. Moundbuilders staff can provide assessments and help medical staff determine what is the best step to take toward obtaining help for the person experiencing the crisis.
Besides providing assessments and counseling during a crisis, the Moundbuilders staff can refer people for counseling as well as treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
A training program, new to Knox County for law enforcement officers, and fire and EMS personnel, will develop Crisis Intervention Teams.
According to Kay Spurgel, executive director of the Community Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking and Knox Counties, CITs have proven to be wonderful assets in other communities throughout Ohio.
Spurgel said there are over 3,300 CIT officers trained in Ohio. They include police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state patrol troopers, corrections officers, dispatchers, college and university security and police officers, as well as fire and EMS personnel.
“They come together to share about 40 hours of training, and they all volunteer for the program,” Spurgel said.
She said the officers are specially trained to help people experiencing suicidal thoughts, emotional difficulties or crises, people who may have been abusing drugs or alcohol. They learn skills for working with special populations such as children and teens, older adults, and people with developmental disabilities.
“They use a lot of de-escalation, and can refer people to other agencies with different resources,” Spurgel explained. “They understand how to keep that individual and their family safe. They do that by collaborating with mental health.
“Sometimes CIT officers are able to resolve a situation at the scene, other times more resources may be utilized.”
She said the cooperative effort between mental health agencies and emergency personnel means people in crisis are able to get the help they need more quickly.
Although people contemplating suicide may be hesitant to share these thoughts with emergency personnel, doing so is the first step toward receiving help and keeping oneself safe.
Danville Police Chief Monte Vance said he has responded to several calls about individuals who are contemplating, or have attempted, suicide. Vance, an ordained minister, said treating people in crisis with compassion and respect is important when reassuring them there is hope at the end of their current ordeal.
“When all they can see is the pain, I try to reassure them they will heal,” Vance said. “Whatever the situation is; they’ve been hurt, they’ve been bruised, they have to know where they can turn.”
Vance said he understands it is difficult to call for help for yourself or someone else if the person feels ashamed by their situation.
“We have to do what we can to support one another and have a voice of unity in the community,” Vance said. “Stand up and say ‘It’s about helping people, it’s not about condemning people.’”
Vance said fear or shame about substance abuse issues or other legal matters should not keep people from seeking emergency help for themselves or someone else who may try to hurt themselves.
Kristin McCloud, executive director of Pathways of Licking and Knox Counties, said the 2-1-1 crisis line is available to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week for those seeking help in an emotional crisis.
Some phones in the county may not connect directly through 2-1-1, but residents can also reach a crisis specialist by calling (800) 544-1601, or (800) 273-TALK.
“When they call in, they’re going to be talking to someone who’s been specially trained for suicide calls,” McCloud said. “They can talk through the crisis with someone confidentially.”
Besides helping the person work through the immediate crisis, trained phone personnel can also provide contact information for agencies which will be able to start the caller on a path toward healing.
Dodie Melvin, Mental Health America in Knox County’s executive director, said the chat line operated by MHA, although not a crisis line, provides a “listening line” for people experiencing stress, loneliness, isolation, anger and other feelings who can be aided by talking to a compassionate listener.
“They can talk about their feelings or just have a general conversation,” she said.
The chat line is administrated by trained volunteers and is facilitated by Sally Parsons, a retired mental health professional.
MHA also offers a variety of support groups which provide help to those dealing with issues such as depression and parenting challenges. Anyone who is concerned about the emotional well-being of someone is encouraged to offer to go with that person to a support group, or to drive them to an appointment to meet with a counselor.
Keeping open lines of communication lets the person know they are not alone, and that there is someone available to listen.
Dr. Jennifer Ogle said she found that a signed pact she uses with patients who may be dangerously close to considering suicide has been a useful tool in her family practice office.
“I have the patient sign a pact which promises that before they take any action to hurt themselves, they will call the other person and talk about it with them,” said Ogle.
She said the other person who signs the contract can be a friend, family member or whomever the patient chooses. By signing the document, the patient promises he or she will not do anything to harm themselves without seeking intervention from the other trusted person.
Melvin stressed the importance of taking the time to listen to the people in our lives. She said people are under more stress than ever, but may have no one to talk to about it.
“That’s what we need to do more of; really listen to people, and try to hear what they may not be saying.” she said.
McCloud said seeking help for the treatment of depression can be the turnaround needed for someone who has been experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“If some kind of intervention can happen, it can turn things around,” she said. “If the depression can be treated, the world’s going to look a whole lot better on the other side.”