The phones at Listening Hearts Crisis Center will stop ringing in less than two weeks when the local suicide hotline disconnects indefinitely and suspends its services on April 1.
“This is an important service to this town. This is an important service 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, who serves as the nonprofit’s executive director.
In its three years of operation, the volunteer-driven nonprofit did just that: listen. In fact, Rubin says the nonprofit listened to more than 8,000 calls and successfully intervened in 29 imminent suicide attempts. But come April 1, no more calls will be taken.
At the March 7 meeting of the Listening Hearts Board of Directors, the four-member board (of which three attended) voted to close the all-volunteer telephone service. Rubin points to financial limitations as the main driver behind the reason to close.
Last April, Listening Hearts attempted to raise $6,000 through Indiegogo, an online crowd funding platform similar to Kickstarter that allows people and groups to create fundraising campaigns. However, the online campaign only raised $50 — hardly enough to keep the phone lines open for another year even with anonymous donors and various support from local groups like United Way’s 211.
With the loss of the nonprofit suicide line, other mental health providers say their fellow agencies, organizations, providers and nonprofits will have to work to fill a gap in care. And, in Buncombe County, there’s a slightly greater need when compared to the rest of the state. In 2010, Buncombe County had the fourth highest number of suicides in North Carolina, after Mecklenburg (99), Wake (71) and Cumberland (46) counties, according to the State Center for Health Statistics. During that same year, five times as many Buncombe County residents died from suicide (45) as from homicide (9).
“All of the mental health agencies are very busy providing the services that they provide. With this hole from them [Listening Hearts] closing, there will be more people in need and, hopefully, that gap will be able to be picked up by others,” shares All Souls Counseling Center’s Executive Director Sue Brooks.
All Souls Counseling Center offers discounted counseling rates for the uninsured and underinsured population for mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. Annually, the nonprofit serves more than 1,000 people with more than 8,000 sessions, says Brooks. Oftentimes, she explains, stigma still surrounds mental health issues and, consequently, can act as a barrier to total health.
“Depression and anxiety and the different things that people deal with, they’re very much a physical problem,” she says. “When they get help, whether it’s counseling or medication, it truly makes a difference in their lives in being able to live a full life. Mental wellness is kind of that key that we want people out there to work toward. Our bodies are so interwoven in our emotions and our physicical health and our mental health and our spiritual health are all interwoven together.”
However, Brooks states, Listening Hearts Crisis Center provided a service to people who may not necessarily be able to make an appointment at All Souls or elsewhere.
“So many of our older adults and people with disabilities are living at home and they’re isolated, and they’re not able to get out and go someplace, or it’s very very challenging,” she explains. “Knowing that they have someone that they can call or talk with is extremely important.”
However, Listening Hearts Crisis Center is not the only local crisis line that people can call, though it was the only local phone-only service. North Carolina MENTOR’s Mobile Crisis Management team can be found in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties and receives an average of about 100 calls each month. But, this service differs from the one provided by Listening Hearts Crisis Center in that it is face-to-face instead of over the phone.
“We go out to wherever the consumer is having a crisis: homes, schools, hospitals, jails, those types of things,” explains Amy Pointer, who acts as the Mobile Crisis Management team leader. “We also do a follow-up to ensure that they’re linked with services where they remain stable.”
The Mobile Crisis Management team’s main goal is to divert hospitalization and serves children and adults directly in their homes, schools or community when mental health, substance abuse or development disability-related emergencies occur.
Though Listening Hearts Crisis Center will no longer be taking calls come April 1, Rubin stresses to the community that the need will not go away and says a person with more experience in fundraising might be able to make it work.
“I knew we were making a huge difference because I took 13 of those 29 calls myself,” he shares. “When you get somebody on the phone that says, ‘I have a razorblade to my throat and you have 10 seconds to convince me not to slit it,’ that’s when I knew. That’s what we do: We get on the phone with them. There’s not another service that does that for suicide.”
• To contact All Souls Counseling Center, call 259-3369 to schedule an appointment.
• To contact the Mobile Crisis Team, call 1-888-573-1006.
• To contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-8255.