You can always kill yourself. That’s your choice, alone. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s your only choice, or that you’re truly alone.
Circumstances don’t make your choices, you make them. If you can get to a phone, can email, or even text, you can choose to put that final option on a mental back shelf and map your way out of your dead end.
Responders working the Department of Veterans Affairs Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) join you at that impasse and, if you want, open new paths to giving you back the power to be master of your own fate. And you don’t have to be a veteran to call.
It was my privilege to have a chance to sit down with Robert Griffo, Health Science Specialist and one of the expertly-trained and caring responders working at the Veterans Crisis Line national headquarters in Canandaigua, NY. What he had to say is a message everyone really needs to hear.
While many people think they understand about suicide, they don’t. Ask the average person, and most will say suicide is a selfish act. Say that to Griffo, and you’ll get a very different perspective –
“It’s one of those things that actually has nothing to do with selfishness. It has a lot to do with pain. And that pain can be emotional pain. It can be physical pain. But it’s not about selfishness. It’s about finding peace, and, um, I hate to say it, but it’s a truism. Suicide is an option for some. It may not be the best option. At least, I don’t think it’s the best option, but to minimize it and say you know that it’s a selfish act is to deny somebody the right to feel like they want to take their lives. And I think the job on the Crisis Line is to rekindle that inner fire and put some hope back into a caller where that option is now tabled and let’s look at other options here for you.”
When you’re reaching the end of your rope, the Crisis Line has the auxiliary resources you need to get to safe ground. Since the line opened in 2007, nearly 900,000 people have learned this for themselves, with 30,000 of them actually rescued from the edge between life and death. But calling the Crisis Line won’t get you surrounded by cops, says Griffo, a military vet himself:
“There’s a false image that they’ll be a SWAT team at their door if they call. That is not true, number one, not true. Number two, and I can’t give you an exact percentage, [but] the percentage of calls where we need to get somebody to do a face-to-face intervention, the percentage of those call-outs for help compared to [most calls] coming in are actually very low…If a rescue is in order, they’ll be on top of it, but you don’t need to be that far gone to make the call.”
Having suicidal ideation–to just be thinking about it–is a common circumstance for callers. Generally speaking, a caller doesn’t have to be on the brink, ready to go through with it. “Even if suicide is just a tempting thought on the horizon — call,” urges Griffo.
“This line changed. It was to be the Veterans Suicide Line. It is no longer called that. It’s called the Veterans Crisis Line, and the reason being is it opens it up to people who are not necessarily suicidal, but are really really jammed up. Something very bad has happened, maybe they’re going through an intense grieving period, maybe they’ve had a fight with their spouse and their spouse has left for the night and they’re jammed up about that, or there’s a marriage that’s going to break up or their child has been using drugs and they don’t know what to do. They’re up all night, the classic stuff we see. We get Veterans with terrible bouts of PTSD, where they have night flashbacks, they have nightmares, they can’t sleep. They can’t get any joy…They start dealing with their PTSD or their TBI through substance abuse or alcohol. We get plenty of guys that call here drunk. And if you look in their charts, they’re PTSD’d, and they’re using alcohol as a way to calm. They come back from OEF, meaning Afghanistan, they can’t find work. They’re frustrated, they’re angry. They end up calling the hotline.”
The goal of the Crisis Line is first and foremost to listen, to hear what you have to say and let you know that you are not alone. There are people who care about what you are going through, and who can help you come up with options you may not realize you have, explains Griffo:
“We don’t solve the problem, but we can put them in touch with people in the VA, therapists, counselors, addiction workers, that can help them get to a solution. Our job is to tamp down the crisis, let them know they’re not alone, talk with them, listen to them for a while, but ultimately try to get them wrapped around services that the VA can give them. That’s the most important piece, is to get them out there. Let’s get them into the mix.”
The Crisis Line helps veterans and active duty personnel from around the world, including Afghanistan, Tokyo, the Philippines, even once from inside a Costa Rican jail with help from the U.S. Embassy. But they don’t turn anyone away. Veterans families and civilians are helped, too.
“If you call the Veterans Crisis Line, that number, 1-800-273-8255, is a general number that anybody in the United States can dial. You’ll see that number on a call box at the Golden Gate Bridge [in San Francisco], you’ll see it on a call box at the Tappen Zee Bridge when you go downstate [New York]. That’s a number that’s  out there for everybody to call. But, if you’re a veteran you’re encouraged to hit 1 after you dial that number, and you get bumped to us. If you don’t hit 1, you get bumped to any of a number of civilian lifeline services that are out there.”
The Crisis Line also has responders specifically trained to help veterans who are homeless, tapping into the resources available through the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline, 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838). Whichever line they call, veterans who are homeless, or at risk, have easy access to programs and services geared towards prevention, housing support, treatment, employment and job training. There are also programs specifically geared towards helping women vets and the unique issues they face.
I asked Rob what would he like someone in crisis to tell themselves if they think they’ve run out of options. Here’s what he wants you to know –
“That they’re not alone. There’s a way out, and the way out is through, and let us help you through that. That you’re not alone, that’s a big piece for callers to understand. You’re not alone anymore. Lets work on this together.”
Don’t Think Naked! Click on the Veterans Crisis Line “Recommended Link” on the left, or go directly to their website at www.veteranscrisisline.net, to learn more about this incredible resource. Also be sure to catch this week’s You’re Not Cursed post for more on my interview with Griffo as he shares his insight into things you should keep in mind if you’re at the end of your rope trying to help a loved one in crisis.