MOUNT VERNON — When you or someone you care about is facing a serious crisis, or seeking answers to some of life’s tough questions, help in Knox County is only a phone call away.
The 2-1-1 Crisis Hotline and Information Center has been operating for about two years according to Pathways of Central Ohio executive director Kristin McCloud. Last year the hotline changed from an 800 number to the easy-to-remember 2-1-1.
Pathways, a private not-for-profit organization, operates the hotline in Knox and Licking Counties using funding provided by the Community Mental Health and Recovery Board levy, the Licking County United Way, and the United Way of Knox County.
McCloud said the hotline has seen a dramatic increase in use over the past year for information and referrals. The staff members who answer the calls are specially trained to deal with situations ranging from financial quandaries to crisis calls. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year including holidays.
Callers are referred to agencies that can help them with the challenges they are facing. Many of the calls the hotline receives have to do with financial problems such as foreclosures, and problems paying rent or medical bills. McCloud said many of the callers who are experiencing financial crisis have never before been in the frightening predicament of losing their home or job.
The hotline also offers help to those facing crisis situations such as suicidal thoughts, domestic violence and other relationship problems, anxiety and panic, behavioral problems, general depression, and medical problems. McCloud said depression is the underlying cause of many crisis calls the hotline receives.
McCloud said callers who reach out to the hotline for help will find empathy waiting at the other end of the phone line. “We recognize that it can be scary to make that first call,” said McCloud. “But we’re there to help the caller resolve their problem in a way that will work best for them.”
Judgment is not part of the counseling which is offered, explained McCloud. “No one here is going to think someone is crazy,” she emphasized. “They’re there to listen; they’re not there to judge anybody. The main thing we try to do is we try to get them to talk about what’s going on in their life.”
In fact, a sympathetic ear is sometimes all that is needed to help someone sort out what is troubling them. “They often just need to talk to someone,” McCloud explained. “We’ll talk to a caller for as long as needed.”
The hotline is open to all callers, of any age. McCloud said children and teens needing help are welcome to call the hotline, and a parent’s permission is not required before making the call in a crisis.
Some callers are seeking help in dealing with their children, or guidance in helping their elderly family members.
Because of the sensitive nature of the problems callers discuss with the hotline staff, strict confidentiality is observed. No one is forced to give their name or age, or where they are calling from. “We’re governed by the laws of confidentiality just like any other counseling agency would be,” McCloud explained.
Some callers to the hotline are facing the ultimate crisis — battling the urge to take their own life. Suicide threats are taken extremely seriously, and treated as the critical crisis which they are.
The 2-1-1 hotline is a participating center in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When local people call the national 1-800-273-TALK suicide prevention line, they are routed to the 2-1-1 staff who all have extensive training in suicide prevention.
“We’re going to try and talk them through that,” McCloud said. “We’re recognizing that this is a call for help, and we’re trying to gauge where that person is in their plan to take their life.”
McCloud said when callers call the hotline, the phone counselors recognize the call can be a pivotal moment. “They’re reaching for a lifeline and we’re going to help them focus on some reasons for living.”
The recent rise in suicides and suicide attempts in Knox County combined with the dozens of threats which the hotline counselors have heard, have placed an even greater urgency on the services the hotline provides.
This week, door hangers will be distributed in some areas of the county to publicize the 2-1-1 number. McCloud said the neighborhoods where the door hangers have been placed in the past immediately see a rise in hotline calls.
McCloud said people considering a call to the hotline need to remember there is absolutely no shame in seeking help with the problems which are a part of life.
“It’s really not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it’s a sign of strength,” she said. “It takes a lot of guts to make that phone call. It’s the responsible thing to do and the right thing to do to ask for help.”