Suicide prevention: Hope at the End of the Line
by Alan Staines
In the second of two articles marking the centenary of Salvation Army suicide prevention work, Envoy Alan Staines writes about a counselling service in Australia that offers a listening ear when it is most needed
SALVO Care Line, The Salvation Army’s telephone counselling service which operates in the Australian cities of Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, provides 24-hour, professional, Christian counselling. Trained counsellors respond with compassion and endeavour, with God’s help, to empower people in need.
People can ring from the privacy of their own home for the cost of a local telephone call. Instant help is available when Salvo Care Line calls the emergency services to someone who is in desperate need. If the request is for welfare there are links to services within The Salvation Army and other community services.
The service is open to anyone who wants to ring. Although it is basically an English-speaking service sometimes an interpreter is used to counsel non-English-speaking clients. Similarly people with disabilities can be helped – for example if a client is deaf a specialist operator gives assistance.
In 2006 Salvo Care Line processed 60,000 calls, requiring nearly 7,000 volunteer hours. The training for volunteers consists of two sessions a year with particular emphasis on crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
By far the largest number of calls are to do with relationship issues with partners or families. There has been a recent increase in the number of calls from distressed parents ringing about a range of problems with adolescent children. The problems range from general issues to drugs, truancy, sexual concerns, exploitation by adults or warning signs for suicide. During the day there are also a lot of welfare-type calls and at night people ring because they want food or accommodation.
People suffering from anxiety or depression ring to discuss how they will survive another day. Some callers are actually in the process of committing suicide – for example talking while pointing a gun at their head – and they ring to say goodbye.
One woman rang the service to say she was in a hotel room and had taken a cocktail of drugs. The counsellors were able to arrange for an ambulance to go to her. About three months later the woman rang back to say she was glad to be alive.
On another occasion a young man rang on a mobile phone. He had just found out he had failed a major university exam and had placed a noose around his neck before ringing. The counsellor was able to talk the student into freeing himself from the noose and even spoke to his parents to help the family as a whole understand that failing one exam was not the end of the world.
Fortunately, people who want to end their own life make up only five per cent of calls. This number is still high, however, and counsellors do anything they can to stop a tragedy taking place.
Sometimes cases can involve more than just one person. On one night, for instance, a man called and revealed he was on his way home to shoot himself and others. Telephone counsellors were able to obtain help for him when he reached home and averted a tragedy.
Envoy Alan Staines is Chair of the Salvation Army Suicide Prevention Committee in the Australia Eastern Territory