Crisis Line gives help to those who seek it

By Amy Fishman

For a period of four hours, three times a month, when Dan Marovitch receives a phone call, he kicks everyone else out of the room. One time, that included his roommate, he said.

Marovitch, a Crisis Line volunteer, receives phone calls from callers in crisis, who want someone to talk with about their problems.

The Crisis Line is a 24-hour hotline that helps callers with crisis intervention, supportive listening, suicide prevention and community information, according to CUVolunteer.org. The Crisis Line operates out of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 30,622 people committed suicide nationally in 2001.

There were 31 suicidal deaths in Champaign County, according to the Champaign County Coroner’s 2004 Report.

Crisis Line Coordinator Barb Bressner said the Crisis Line has been in the Champaign-Urbana community since about 1970. In the last three months, the Crisis Line took an average of about 315 calls a month. At times, it has been higher, she said.

April Scurgill, Crisis Services supervisor at the Crisis Line, said the hotline is a great resource tool and easy for people to use, as they cannot see whom they are talking to. This helps them be more open about their problems and more comfortable discussing them because it’s anonymous, she said.

Another great feature of the Crisis Line is that someone is always there to take a crisis call.

“It gives people an immediate support,” Scurgill said.

People call for so many reasons, Bressner said. One of the main reasons is when people have thoughts of committing suicide. Other common reasons people call the Crisis Line include looking for information about resources they can use in the community, and anxiety and panic attacks, she said.

Scurgill said the Crisis Line caters to a lot of different people, from people who are actually in crisis to people who are depressed, have relationship issues, or have stress and anxiety. Clinicians and volunteers also give referrals for counseling and doctors’ offices.

Scurgill said when someone calls the Crisis Line, an answering service takes the call. The person at the answering service takes the name and telephone number of the caller and calls a volunteer who is on call. Then the volunteer calls the caller back, she said.

Most of the time it takes only a couple of minutes, Scurgill said. At the most, the Crisis Line has a 10-15 minute response time, she said.

One volunteer is on call at one time, she said. Volunteers are on call for four-hour shifts, and they do three shifts a month.

Alex Goldberg, a senior in LAS, started volunteering for the Crisis Line last spring. He said he started volunteering because as a psychology major, he wants to go into counseling someday. He thought volunteering would be a good way of “testing it out.”

Goldberg said he enjoys volunteering because he likes to make people feel better about their problems.

“If you help someone, it feels better than getting a good grade,” he said.

Goldberg said he has taken calls from people in various situations and in bad circumstances. People call when they reach breaking points, he said.

One example of a call he took was when a woman called when everything in her life seemed to be going wrong. Goldberg said she had problems at home, with her boyfriend and with not having enough money to raise her children.

He said he told the woman that with everything she was going through, she was an “awesome mom.” It’s good to say something to build up confidence in the callers, he said.

“They need to hear someone say something good about their lives,” Goldberg said.

Dan Marovitch, another Crisis Line Volunteer and junior in LAS, said the same thing.

Marovitch, a volunteer for two years, said that as a volunteer, there isn’t much he can do for callers, except talk with them about their problems, make sure they will be okay, provide them with community resources for finding help and listen.

If a volunteer is in the middle of a crisis phone call when someone else calls the Crisis Line, a backup clinician will take the call. Scurgill said five clinicians are employed by the Mental Health Center. Bressner said there are currently about 60 active volunteers at the Crisis Line.

Volunteers can be anyone over the age 18, Scurgill said.

About 20 new volunteers attend each of the training sessions which are held twice a year, in the fall and in the early spring, Bressner said.

Scurgill said volunteers attend a four-day training session during evenings and weekends.

Bressner said the training includes a formal 14 hours of classroom training, plus six hours of on-the-job training.

During the classroom training, volunteers learn about active listening, problem solving, suicide risk assessment, assessing for depression, mental illness diagnoses, grief and loss, personality disorders, psychosis, diverse populations and community resources to recommend to callers.

In addition, volunteers role-play various types of calls so that they will be more at ease when actually taking the calls, Bressner said. They talk about how the role-played calls went, how they felt about the conversations and about the resources they could have recommended to the caller.

After the classroom training, volunteers work with the Mental Health Center clinicians.

“They have an opportunity to listen in on actual calls,” Bressner said.

Though the new volunteers get to listen to the phone calls, they must sign assurances of confidentiality, and they do not participate in the calls, she said. However, it helps them feel more comfortable with taking calls.

After all the training is completed, the volunteers go on the regular schedule and take calls on their own, Scurgill said.

As far as handling crisis calls, what the clinicians and volunteers of the Crisis Line do for or say to a caller depends on the issue, said Scurgill. Some people just want to talk.

“It really just depends on what their needs are,” she said.

Scurgill said it is sometimes difficult to handle a crisis call. She said it’s frustrating when people want something the clinicians or volunteers can’t give them, and it’s frustrating to not be able to solve everything.

“It’s human nature that we want to fix people’s problems,” she said.

As far as how many calls come in, Marovitch said he receives about two or three calls a session, on average.

Goldberg said the highest number of calls he has received in one four-hour shift was five crisis calls.

As far as time goes, Scurgill said the amount of time for each crisis phone call varies.

“It depends on what kind of call it is,” she said.

The average phone call lasts about 25 minutes, she said. However, there have been calls that have lasted one and a half to two hours.

If the caller is contemplating suicide, the phone call lasts until that person is safe, Scurgill said.

If a suicidal call comes in, that call is transferred directly to the backup clinicians. They rotate shifts, 24 hours a day, Bressner said.

And volunteers can transfer crisis calls to the backup clinicians if they have difficulties handling a particular phone call.

Goldberg said he passes calls on to the backup clinicians when callers have problems that he is unfamiliar with, such as not being able to receive medications because of complications with doctors. In addition, hurricane evacuee calls go directly to backup, he said.

Along with suicide calls and hurricane calls, more calls that go directly to backup clinicians are crisis calls made by frequent callers, Bressner said. It’s helpful for the clinician and for the caller if the caller frequently calls the Crisis Line and he or she talks to the same person, she added.

Scurgill said many people who call the Crisis Line call multiple times. Some are in therapy and are seeing a doctor, she said.

“They kind of use the Crisis Line as a support in between sessions,” Scurgill said.

All the information given during a crisis call is confidential, and no personal information is given out, Scurgill said. Personal relationships between volunteers or clinicians and Crisis Line callers are not encouraged, she added.

Volunteers never develop professional nor personal relationships with the callers, but some of the clinicians develop professional relationships with some of the callers, she added.

“We see a lot of the callers, just because they’re clients of ours,” she said.

The Crisis Line is meant to help callers feel better about their problems, but it also makes its volunteers feel good.

“It’s just rewarding if it works,” Goldberg said.

Marovitch said even if he’s not helping people that much, it’s good to know he’s making them feel better. In addition, he appreciates his own problems after hearing about other people’s problems.

“After doing Crisis Line, when I go out at night on weekends, it seems unfair that other people have serious problems and I’m having fun with my friends,” Marovitch said.