Listen, talk to help prevent suicide

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Many of my work days involve people I’ve just met sharing their thoughts of suicide with me. For some, I’m the first person they’ve told. Often, we are in the person’s home. I listen to each person’s story, which often involves a great deal of pain and loss. Most of the time I can also hear a glimmer of hope, a desire to stay alive. Once that enters the conversation, we work together to create a plan to provide safety for the person for a short period of time. I provide referrals to community resources based on the person’s needs and preferences. We usually schedule a time to follow up, to ensure the plan still is working and that the person has been able to access appropriate resources.

I am the coordinator for The Crisis Center of Johnson County’s Mobile Crisis Outreach program. Our program offers professional help in a person’s home, work, hospital, school, or wherever the crisis is happening within one hour of receiving a call. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We respond to anyone experiencing emotional distress in Johnson and Iowa Counties. Counselors respond in teams of two, receive specialized training in crisis and suicide intervention and each team has at least one master’s level provider.

Suicidologist Thomas Joiner has noted that feelings of isolation and a sense of being a burden are common for those who experience thoughts of suicide. Many don’t want to stress personal relationships and simply don’t know where to turn. It can be daunting to find a mental health professional. Wait lists are common and most are not available after hours. Our program addresses these barriers because there is one number to call and we generally arrive within one hour, anytime of day or night.

Our program has very few barriers for those who need services. Because we respond to homes, we can serve people for whom transportation is a barrier. Because we are available 24 hours every day, we can provide care outside of regular office hours. Because there is no cost to those who use our services, we can serve individuals for whom payment for services may be an issue. When an individual who is having thoughts of suicide has nowhere else to turn, they can always count on us.

We’re right in the midst of National Suicide Prevention Month and I want to tell you that you don’t have to be a trained professional to help prevent suicide. The greatest gift you can give someone who might be experiencing thoughts of suicide is an ear. If you’re concerned that someone you know and love might be having thoughts of suicide, ask them if they’re ok. Reach out. Make sure to write down the 24-hour crisis line number, (319) 351-0140, and be ready to listen. If they want to speak to counselors in person, they can ask for Mobile Crisis Outreach. Your time and attention could make all the difference.

• Timothy Kelly is coordinator of The Crisis Center of Johnson County’s mobile crisis outreach program.

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