What happens on a suicide prevention hotline? Framingham's Call2Talk director explains

Zane Razzaq | MetroWest Daily News

FRAMINGHAM — Call2Talk, the 24/7 United Way of Tri-County's statewide suicide prevention hotline, has seen a surge in call volume since the pandemic.

The crisis line, which is run by Mass211, began in December 2013. Since that time, the program has received more than 284,000 calls that are answered by trained volunteers. From March to June 2020, calls were up 21.3% over the same period in 2019.

Last week, Lt. Gov Karyn Polito and Executive Office of Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders visited Mass211's Framingham headquarters on Park Street to recognize call center staff for answering more than one million pandemic-related calls.

Other attendees included state Senate President Karen Spilka, state Rep. Jack Lewis, Mayor Charlie Sisitsky and state Sen. Jamie Eldridge.

 

Paul Mina, Mayor Charlie Sisitsky and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito

Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky recognizes Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, right, while speaking during a day of recognition and celebration at the Mass211 call center at the United Way of Tri-County in Framingham, Feb. 11, 2022. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ken McGagh

 

The Daily News spoke with Eileen Davis, Call2Talk director and vice president of Mass211, about what happens when a person calls the suicide prevention hotline.

Anyone in Massachusetts who would like to speak with Call2Talk can dial 2-1-1 and follow menu prompts or call (413) 505-5111. If a caller prefers to communicate by text, text "C2T" to 741-741. 

Who calls the hotline?

Davis: There's no real profile of a caller. Callers call from every age, every type of socio-economic condition. There's a vast array of reasons for calling, from not really clearly understanding why they're anxious or upset to having a very focused reason, such as trouble with a relationship or trouble in school or maybe a mental health concern of some sort.

 

Mass211 Call taker Vanessa Didio

Vanessa Didio, an information referral specialist for Mass211, takes a call in the call center at the United Way of Tri-County in Framingham, Feb. 11, 2022. Staffers at the call center were recognized for answering more than a million pandemic related calls, with Feb. 11 declared 211 Day in Massachusetts by Gov. Charlie Baker. Mass211 is a free telephone hotline that connects callers with local health and human services 24 hours a day every day. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ken McGagh

 

Sometimes people call because they're worried about somebody else that they care about, whether it's at work or school or family. It could be a parent, it could be an adult child, it could be a young child.

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So it's quite the array of reasons, and that's what makes it hard. But it also makes it easy in that the knowledge base you need doesn't have to be so specific. It can be a little bit more because once you are able to emotionally support one condition, you most likely can transfer it to something else.

What languages are available?

Davis: Up until a year ago, we were predominantly English. But right now we have the ability to offer translation services in 150 languages. So if someone does present that they're not comfortable speaking in English, we have that option. The call taker can merge in an interpreter.

Who answers the calls?

Davis: We have retirees, we have professionals that come here at night after work and on the weekends. We have moms. We have graduate and undergraduate college students seeking experience, potentially for a field that they might want to go into. We have a few high school students that are looking to get experience. You know, men, women, male, female. It's a broad spectrum of call takers, just like the callers themselves.

 

Mass211 Calltaker Shantaun Pinnock

Shantaun Pinnock, an information referral specialist for Mass211, takes a call in the call center at the United Way of Tri-County in Framingham, Feb. 11, 2022. Earlier, staffers at the call center were recognized for answering more than a million pandemic related calls, with Feb. 11 declared 211 Day in Massachusetts by Gov. Charlie Baker. Mass211 is a free telephone hotline that connects callers with local health and human services 24 hours a day every day. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ken McGagh

 

What are the conversations like?

Davis: There's sort of a recipe of a call, there's sort of a flow to it. For someone to understand what would happen if they call so they would have an expectation, you really get down to the most minute detail.

For the caller, there's going to be a ring indicator and they're going to hear an auto attendant, but it's going to quickly go to an available call taker who's going to greet them with: "Call2Talk — we're here to listen," so they know they got to the right place.

They're going to be offered to exchange names. So we might exchange our first names if they want to. And then it's going to go into: "What was the reason for your call today?"

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Soon thereafter, the call taker is going to try to find out if the caller is feeling at all suicidal — contemplating it, thinking about it, struggling with it to perhaps being all the way to actively suicidal and just wanting to take measures to end their life. That becomes a little bit more of an assessment process to understand where they are.

Just because someone says they're feeling suicidal doesn't mean they're actively suicidal. So that takes a bunch of training and a lot of questions and assessment to figure out whether they fall right in that area of danger or safety.

What kinds of information does the caller give?

Davis: We do ask for their first name if they want to share it, just because it's nice in conversation to use someone's name. But they don't have to. Other than that, there's really no requirement.

Sometimes, as we're doing the risk assessment, we'll ask some of these questions about what's going on in their story and about means and capacity and timeframe just to have a better understanding of how to best support them emotionally. But nothing is required and the caller has the option to end the call anytime they want.

Does Call2Talk perform follow-ups?

Davis: Currently, no. The only time that a follow-up could potentially happen is if the call gets organically disconnected for some reason... sometimes people get to the place where, during the course of conversation, they realize that they probably aren't going to be safe at home. And it's always easier for a caller to call for emergency services on their own.

 

Mass211 Calltaker Gabrielle Lundy and other call takers

Gabrielle Lundy, left, and other information referral specialists for Mass211, take calls at the United Way of Tri-County in Framingham, Feb. 11, 2022. Earlier, staffers at the call center were recognized for answering more than a million pandemic related calls, with Feb. 11 declared 211 Day in Massachusetts by Gov. Charlie Baker. Mass211 is a free telephone hotline that connects callers with local health and human services 24 hours a day every day. Daily News And Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ken McGagh

 

There was a time when cellphones first got popular that we thought, with texting and so many platforms out there, that this was going to go away. But I think now more than ever since the pandemic, it's really growing again.

The amount of people calling who are alone, isolated, or they feel they're alone, even though they're not alone, is just exponentially growing. Those are people that feel that they either don't want to burden someone else that they care about, or they don't have anyone else to talk to. So they reach out to a third-party person that doesn't really know them and they feel isn't going to judge them. If anything, they feel they're going to get validated and empathized with.

They're just going to get someone that's really compassionate toward their situation. Even if they call and it doesn't sound like a big issue — it's big to them. It's something and they have the right to be heard.

Zane Razzaq writes about education. Reach her at 508-626-3919 or zrazzaq@wickedlocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.