By Pam Paul
The City Sentinel
Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year. Oklahoma is nationally ranked 13th in deaths by suicide, with it being the second leading cause of death for Oklahoma youth ages 10-24.
HeartLine, “Oklahoma’s Community Crisis Connection,” is a non-profit agency that provides volunteers and staff to answer calls 1-800-273-TALK, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline which offers hope and information, 24 hours a day. HeartLine provides critical services that are free and confidential and is responsible for answering all suicide hotline calls for the state of Oklahoma. HeartLine works in conjunction with other national agencies in order to provide the most efficient crisis management possible.
There are five key components, or hotlines, to the Heartline Phone Service Program:
•The 211 Line, provides Central Oklahomans 24/7 access to information on any type of health or human service. HeartLine is directly responsible for 40 counties in Oklahoma.
• The CareLine has Call Specialists that are available 24-hours a day, every day of the year, that offer compassionate listening, and crisis intervention and suicide prevention. HeartLine, 405-848-2273 (CARE) is responsible for all calls in Central Oklahoma.
• The Healthy Education for Life Program (HELP) teaches youth about the warning signs of depression and suicide and how to get help. Since 1997, more than 36,000 youth, educators and parents have been reached through schools and youth-related community groups. Heartline goes through Oklahoma and speaks at schools about the signs of suicide and prevention.
• The Healthy Aging Living Transitions (HALT) Program focuses on suicide awareness and prevention among the elderly – the age group with the highest suicide completion rate per attempts.
• HeartLine’s Problem Gambling Helpline is the result of a partnership with the Oklahoma Association for Problem & Compulsive Gambling and provides problem gamblers and family of problem gamblers throughout the state of Oklahoma information about overcoming their addiction.
Heartline can have a call load of up to 12,000 calls per month, which is a total of calls coming into all five of the aforementioned hotlines.
Following statistical trends, Heartliine schedules volunteers accordingly and between HeartLine and other crisis call centers across the country, calls are routed until someone answers, which gives Heartline a 90% success rate in answering calls. Peak times for calls are overnight, Fridays, the first and the middle of the month, and during the month of April. “Most people think that the suicide calls would be heaviest during the holidays, or the winter months” said Tom Taylor, Director of HeartLine, “however, most calls come in April, around tax time.”
The office area for the call specialists is small and cozy.
Desks with computers and phones line the room and on the wall hangs a large new monitor screen which reflects the flow of calls coming in through the five lines. Thanks to a “Community Development Block Grant” that Taylor applied for in 2010 HeartLine has the most sophisticated phone and computer hardware and software available.
He explained, “Before we got this system we were practically using the rotary style phones, headsets and outdated computers. This system now helps us take, manage, and better track all calls coming into the center.”
Call specialists are highly trained and certified so they are able to facilitate any type of call coming into the hotlines.
Bilingual specialists are always available, and calls are prioritized so those calling on the Suicide Care Line become top priority. Calls are kept private, unless a hotline operator senses a crisis, in which case information will be asked to help expedite a safe resolution.
In 2010 HeartLine answered over 167,445 calls from all five lines of which 7,345 were on the CareLine.
About 38% of the calls coming in are calls for basic needs. All in all, the call volume increased 65% from 2008-2010.
“This is very exciting” says Taylor. “This means that more people are finding us and calling for help.We work hard to keep our presence in the forefront. We keep our billboards and digital graphics updated and appealing for all ages, we use social media and we have been able to get Heartline to the top of the rankings on the search engines.”
In many cases, HearttLine can be the difference between life and death. I started as a telephone volunteer in 2000 because one of my friends took their life and I had no idea it was going to happen, he explained.
“I have learned so much since I have been with HeartLine and I cannot imagine doing anything more rewarding.”
Because HeartLine is a non-profit agency, grant writing and other fundraising methods are crucial to keep the resources available to support its services.
HeartLine has started a text to donate program, that lets you text 20222 with the phrase Heart211 to give a one time $10 contribution to HeartLine.
The organization also holds its annual ‘Festival of Hope” which is held in August. The Festival of Hope seeks to raise awareness and support for HeartLine’s vital programs.
Celebrating the power of hope, the event is timed to take place just before National Suicide Prevention Week. For more information about HeartLine, to read about the signs of depression or to volunteer, please visit: www.heartlineoklahoma.org. For listening and crisis support call the CareLine at (405) 848-CARE (2273).