Stressed senior woman at home

2-1-1 specialist helps deter a caller from suicide

Kelly is a divorced Westchester mother with children away at college and no family nearby to turn to. Kelly had been suffering from depression for a number of years. Having had a very difficult day at work, and not being able to stop crying, she decided to call 2-1-1. During the course of the conversation, Kelly revealed she was thinking of suicide. The specialist first made sure Kelly didn’t have a plan or the means to take her life and then connected her to a mental health hotline where she could further discuss her suicidal thoughts. The 2-1-1 specialist stayed on the line with Kelly while the hotline operator persuaded her to seek immediate treatment. Kelly then agreed to have emergency services come to her home and take her to the hospital. The 2-1-1 specialist followed-up with Kelly the next day and learned that Kelly had met with a psychiatrist at the hospital who helped de-escalate her feelings of suicide and together they came up with a plan for her that included counseling.

Mary, a 2-1-1 call specialist, said that when the call center receives calls from people contemplating suicide, specialists first assess whether they are in immediate jeopardy, and act accordingly, either connecting them to mental health services or having a co-worker call 9-1-1 while they remain on the line.

“We ask a series of questions to determine if the person is at a high level of distress,” she said. “Are these just thoughts or are they going to act immediately?

What surprises Mary most, she says, is the number of older adults living on their own. “Many people are lonely and have no support system,’’ she said. “These are very vulnerable people. Sometimes they just need that friendly voice to talk to or someone to talk them through handling an issue.’’

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