Suicide prevention advocates say to take three key steps when a friend or loved one talks about suicide or exhibits warning signs that they may be suicidal.
Show you care. Ask the question. Call for help.
But the last step might make some people hesitate because they don't know what will happen when they call a crisis center or helpline. Advocates, however, emphasize that the only purpose of the person answering the phone is to provide help.
"We're in the helping profession, and we want to help people," said Kyle Sullivan, clinical supervisor at the Benton & Franklin Counties Crisis Response Unit.
The Crisis Response Unit provides an average of 1,300 services each month to people in need of mental health counseling or guidance over the phone or through face-to-face evaluations, Sullivan said.
Calls to crisis response are answered by trained professionals -- 13 designated mental health professionals and four crisis counselors are on staff.
"If someone is concerned about a friend or family member -- or they're experiencing symptoms of a mental illness themselves -- they should feel comfortable calling us and understand we're not just going to go out and create a bunch of problems in their lives," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said they get calls from people who don't want to give their names and are just looking for guidance on how to deal with a problem, from people concerned about a friend or from people needing help for themselves.
All calls are confidential, but crisis response staff will call police if there are threats from the caller to harm themselves or others or reports of child abuse. Designated mental health professionals also do have the legal authority to sign a detention order to evaluate someone for up to 72 hours at a treatment facility, but Sullivan said the law requires that they look at least restrictive options first.
"We're going to evaluate the person, find out what specifically is going on with them and if we can address it in a safe manner outside the hospital, that's going to be the A choice," he said.
The circumstances vary depending on each person and the problem they are calling about, but Sullivan said crisis staff typically start out by asking some basic, but pointed questions, to help them determine if there's an imminent danger.
If a person talks about suicide or homicide or about a mental illness, crisis response staff will try to see if the caller is willing to visit the crisis response unit to talk to them in person.
If there is a medical issue, the caller may be directed to the emergency room. Sometimes they will try to coordinate with a doctor or counselor who has been treating the caller because they have more information about the patient's history.
"If we need to go out in the community, we don't go out by ourselves for staff safety," Sullivan explained. "If it's someone we don't know and we have to go out into the community, we would call law enforcement or we can go out in pairs."
Crisis response staff are available to meet with people in person 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Sullivan said. No appointments are needed.
From 8 a.m. to midnight people can stop by and talk to someone, he said. During the overnight hours, it takes a quick call to make arrangements to meet someone.
Crisis services are provided regardless of a person's ability to pay. Everyone is entitled to an initial crisis screening at no charge, and there is never a fee to call, officials said.
To reach crisis response, call 783-0500 or 800-783-0544.
The Crisis Response Unit is at 2635 W. Deschutes Ave., Kennewick.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org