Franklin James Cook

A Life Saved Connects the Dots on Data from Hotline Study

In Intervention, Research on November 3, 2009 at 10:00 pm

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

In March 2005, at the inaugural meeting of the Consumer Survivor Subcommittee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a troupe of the finest researchers in the field unveiled the results of several key studies of the operations and effectiveness of suicide prevention hotlines, and I was fortunate to be among the newly recruited committee members in attendance.

Of all the things I learned during that meeting at the headquarters of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in Rockville, Md. — much of which has continued to guide the committee’s work and the overall development of the Lifeline network of crisis centers — one bit of data stands out to me with utmost clarity: In a relatively larger study, 11 percent of hotline callers said that “the call prevented them from killing or harming themselves.”

Eleven percent! More than one in every 10 people who reached out to a suicide hotline said the call prevented them from making a suicide attempt.

That bit data came to mind today when I read a story from WYFF Television in Greenville, S.C.

On Saturday in the little town of Travelers Rest, a police officer shot a gun right out of the hand of a suicidal man.

The police officers spoke with [Jeffrey] Simpson for more than an hour as Simpson held a gun to his head. The officers said Simpson repeatedly waved the gun around and pointed it directly at the officers, refusing repeated commands to put it down. The officers said as Simpson extended his arm and pointed the gun at an officer, another officer fired, hitting the pistol.

It seems to me as if a life was miraculously saved (especially when one considers how many times incidents such as this end with police killing the gun-wielding suicidal person).

And here’s what brought to mind for me the data about hotlines:

Police said the man … had called the national suicide hotline, who in turn contacted the sheriff’s office. The officers quickly requested assistance from the sheriff’s office SWAT team. The police chief and captain both responded from home to the scene.

Who knows what the long-term story will be in this case (or in any case involving a starkly suicidal person who is rescued), but this much is clear: The man was ambivalent about dying, and he called for help. The people he called sent someone to him who was able to help. And the man lived another day, with a brand-new chance to recover from whatever it is that is causing him pain.

See all five articles related to crisis hotlines from the June 2007 issue of Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/HotlineStudy .]

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