“All of our liners are super supportive of each other, and it’s very clear when someone is on a difficult call.”
The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) requires each frontline team member (aka ‘liners’) to undergo 40 hours of crisis intervention training. A liner-in-training studies the S.L.A.P. Scale, an important guideline for assessing the phase and severity of a caller’s self-harm plan should he or she disclose suicidal ideation. The acronym is a handy method for recalling key lines of questioning about the specificity, lethality, and availability of his or her plan, as well as their proximity to aid-providing resources.
An equally important–albeit less straightforward–skill for liners to know is how to stay focused and composed when an emotionally-charged conversation affects her or him more than usual. “That’s part of why the crisis center is set up in a circle,” says one crisis service supervisor. “All of our liners are super supportive of each other, and it’s very clear when someone is on a difficult call.”
When Rosa, a high school-aged teenager dialed 1-800-RUNAWAY one late night, the on-duty supervisor relied on both the S.L.A.P. Scale as well as her team to ensure the teen was listened to and provided the supportive tools necessary to keep her out of harm’s way.
“Her first question to me was what she could do for her sister, like what could she leave for her sister,” says the supervisor. After unpacking what she meant, it became clear that the teen was somewhere along the planning process of killing herself.
Liners work backward from a worst-case scenario and work to determine where along in the planning process a caller is to determine the best course of action moving forward. In life-or-death scenarios, like a caller who has already taken steps to hurt themselves, a liner will request his or her identifying information to connect them with first responders in their area. In other cases, it can mean asking the caller to commit to a gesture as small and specific as promising to unhand harmful items–a weapon, a bottle of pills, etc–and place them in another room for the duration of the call.
“Depending on the level of risk, you kind of work with that,” says the supervisor. Fortunately, Rosa was not far along in a plan, and she was committed to seeking help. She had spoken to a school counselor and a few close friends, but her depression was not being addressed in a proactive way.
“In the middle of the call, she got disconnected,” says the supervisor. Hearing such a young caller sound so resigned hit her hard. “Obviously, I was upset that the call hadn’t been finished. I took a moment and went to the bathroom.” Because her team had been following along with the difficult call, when Rosa called back a few minutes later, another liner was able to pick up while the supervisor was away.
“When I came back to the crisis services center, Rosa had called back, and I was able to resume the conversation to talk about those things and go through options.” The supervisor listened, focused the conversation on a positive aspect of the caller’s life–her connection to her sister–and worked with her to establish a game plan moving forward.
Like a lot of youth, Rosa did not feel comfortable discussing her mental health with her parents. In her case, she had a desire to talk more openly about what she was going through with her mother but wanted to voice it out first with an objective listener. “It takes a lot of courage to talk to a mother or parent about depression or suicide,” says the supervisor.
“The fact that she called and called back a second time…at that point, talking is empowering her. Clearly, she wanted help, and she was able to reach out for it.”
*The name of the caller has been changed to respect anonymity.