The phones at Listening Heart Crisis Center will fall silent any day now — if they haven’t already by the time you read this. The local suicide hotline will suspend operations April 1.
“This is an important service to this town that is not to be belittled. There’s something incredibly powerful about a volunteer who’s willing to be on the phone with somebody and just listen,” says Cliff Rubin, the nonprofit’s executive director.
For the past three years, Listening Heart has done just that. During that time, Rubin reports, the group has taken more than 8,000 calls and successfully intervened in 29 imminent suicide attempts.
On March 7, however, the nonprofit’s board voted to shut down the all-volunteer service, primarily due to financial issues, Rubin explains.
In 2011, Buncombe County ranked fourth in the state in suicides, after Mecklenburg (93), Wake (85) and Guilford (49) counties, according to the State Center for Health Statistics. More than four times as many Buncombe County residents died from suicide that year (43) as from homicide (10).
Last April, Listening Heart tried to raise $6,000 through Indiegogo, an online crowd-funding platform, but the campaign brought in a mere $50. And now, despite anonymous donors and support from groups like United Way, the nonprofit simply can’t afford to keep the phone lines open for another year.
Listening Heart’s closure, though, puts more pressure on other local care providers, notes Sue Brooks, executive director of All Souls Counseling Center in Asheville. “All of the mental health agencies are very busy providing the services that they provide. With this hole ... there will be more people in need.”
All Souls offers discounted rates for those with illnesses including depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. The nonprofit serves more than 1,000 people annually, providing more than 8,000 sessions, Brooks reports. "Depression and anxiety ... they’re very much a physical problem," she explains. "When people get help, whether it’s counseling or medication, it truly makes a difference in being able to live a full life. Our emotions and our physical, mental and spiritual health are all interwoven."
Listening Heart, though, helped folks who couldn’t necessarily make it to an appointment at All Souls, says Brooks. “So many of our older adults and people with disabilities are living at home, and they’re isolated. They’re not able to get out and go someplace, or it’s very, very challenging. Knowing they have someone they can call is extremely important.”
Another local service, the Mobile Crisis Management team, works face to face with children and adults in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties. The mobile unit, part of North Carolina MENTOR’s statewide operation, averages about 100 calls per month.
“We go out to wherever the consumer is having a crisis: homes, schools, hospitals, jails,” team leader Amy Pointer explains. “We also do a follow-up to ensure that they’re linked with services to remain stable.” The team’s chief goal, she says, is reducing unnecessary hospitalization.
Rubin, meanwhile, stresses that the community will still need what Listening Heart has provided (see box, “Need Help?”). And despite the nonprofit’s financial woes, he believes that someone with more fundraising experience might be able to make such a service work.
“I knew we were making a huge difference, because I took 13 of those 29 [crisis] calls myself,” he reveals. “When you get somebody on the phone that says, ‘I have a razor blade to my throat, and you have 10 seconds to convince me not to slit it,’ that’s when I knew. There’s not another service that does that for suicide.”
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