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Framingham Call2Talk hotline is at ‘tipping point’

Program Director Eileen Davis, who launched Call2Talk in December of 2013, says a huge increase in calls fielded has put the Framingham organization at a "tipping point" in need of additional volunteers and funding [Daily News and Wicked Local Staff Photo / Art Illman]
Program Director Eileen Davis, who launched Call2Talk in December of 2013, says a huge increase in calls fielded has put the Framingham organization at a "tipping point" in need of additional volunteers and funding [Daily News and Wicked Local Staff Photo / Art Illman]
 
By Jim Haddadin 
Daily News Staff
 
Eileen Davis recruited volunteers and launched the service in December 2013. Since then, it has grown from fielding five calls during its first month to more than 50,000 per year.
 
FRAMINGHAM — With calls now coming from across the state, Call2Talk — a confidential mental health and suicide prevention hotline headquartered in the city — is stretched to its limit, receiving more calls than it has the capacity to immediately answer.
 
The service, now a little more than five years old, recently put out a call for more volunteers, donations and financial support as it grapples with rising demand.
 
“It’s really at a tipping point,” said Call2Talk Program Director Eileen Davis, who has seen a five-fold increase in call volume since she launched the initiative.
 
Operating from a small office inside the United Way of Tri-County building downtown, Call2Talk provides confidential support to callers who are in distress or at risk of harming themselves.
 
Davis recruited volunteers and launched the service in December 2013. Since then, it has grown from fielding five calls during its first month to more than 50,000 per year.
 
Davis said several factors likely fueled the rapid rise, including increased awareness of mental health treatment.
 
“It’s great that people feel empowered to reach out where perhaps they didn’t used to feel that way,” she said, “but it just creates a heavy demand.”
 
Call2Talk is also a vital component of state and national suicide prevention efforts.
 
The service is part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of crisis centers linked by a single telephone number. Call2Talk also merged with Mass2-1-1, a referral hotline run by the United Way, two years ago, providing a means for residents to easily be referred to mental health and suicide prevention services when they call the 2-1-1 system.
 
The 211 service links together many programs. Its database includes about 25,000 records — everything from county food banks to shelters and state assistance programs. Callers experiencing a crisis are routed to volunteers staffing the phones in the Call2Talk headquarters in Framingham.
 
More than 100 volunteers participate. Even so, Davis said callers sometimes must wait on hold before they get through.
 
 
Call2Talk volunteer Doug Hindmarsh takes a call at the Framingham center [Daily News and Wicked Local Staff Photo / Art Illman]
 
“It’s never enough, because it’s 24 hours a day,” she said. “Because these calls are not quick — you know, we don’t want to rush people off. It takes a while to engage and build trust and start the conversation. Even though those are positive engagements, for every positive engagement where someone feels de-escalated and calmer and feels they can move forward, there’s another caller who’s waiting for that.”
 
Volunteers don’t need prior experience. New call takers undergo about 20 hours of training, including lessons on how to assess someone’s level of risk for harm. They also practice fielding calls with role-playing exercises, and partner with a mentor when they start answering calls live.
 
Instructional sessions are held twice a week for three to four weeks. Davis said many people find the experience daunting at first, but grow more comfortable with support from other volunteers.
 
As the service grows, Call2Talk is also seeking more money to meet demand. Davis said it needs administrators to recruit and train volunteers, and faces ongoing costs for new equipment.
 
“It’s just going to be hard to keep up,” Davis said, “and I don’t see any way that the call volume is going to go down.”
 
The next information session for new volunteers is May 16. For more information, contact Davis at 508-370-4857 or email EileenD@Mass211.org.
 
Donations can be made online at www.mass211.org/call2talk or by mailing a check to Call2Talk, 46 Park Street, Framingham, MA 01702.
 
Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or jhaddadin@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.