STEP Reflection – Suicide Hotline Internship

This past year, I interned with Suicide Prevention Services in Columbus for my STEP project.  My duties took place at North Central Mental Health where I answered phone calls from the Lifeline, Teen Line, Senior Line, and the National Suicide Hotline.  The primary objective of this opportunity was to gain hands-on experience in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Overall, working at Suicide Prevention Services has transformed my professional and interpersonal skill set, which I hope to use in the future as a psychiatrist.  I have also been able to expand upon my social knowledge by working with people with various ages, upbringings, gender identities, mental illnesses and personal issues.  I have also obtained networking advantages.  For example, my boss has written me a great letter of recommendation for medical school.  Through training and talking with callers, I have further developed my empathy and communication skills.  I have noticed that I even talk to my friends differently, giving them more constructive advice and using an empathetic tone when they are upset.

Most importantly, I have gained first-hand experience relevant to my future career.  By working with people who are suicidal, I have learned how to successfully interact with my future patients.  Some calls can be very difficult and I need to think quickly on my feet without panicking, another skill that I will need to possess as a doctor.  In addition to taking calls, I have been asked to be a group leader, responsible for training new volunteer and giving a lecture on mental illnesses and common medications.  This promotion has allowed me to share my knowledge about suicide prevention with others and expand upon my leadership skills.  Working at Suicide Prevention Services has helped me to develop a myriad of skills that will make me a competitive medical school applicant, and ultimately an excellent doctor.

During my time as a Suicide Hotline volunteer, I have had several difficult calls, but I will remember one call, in particular, for the rest of my life.  I picked up the phone and heard a soft voice on the other end asking me for help.  I learned that the man had taken several Vicodin pills and was ready to end his life.  Very concerned, I started asking the man where he was, how many pills he took, and what symptoms he was experiencing.  After some time, I also found out that the man had been cutting his wrists during the call.  I knew that I needed to find immediate help for this caller, yet he was refusing to give me his location.  As his voice was growing more faint, I was able to find out his first name, his city, and that he worked in landscaping.  I quickly asked my shift partner to call of the landscaping companies in the area and ask if someone by his name worked there.  After no success, we started to gather information about his girlfriend, and found out that she worked at a bank.  Again, we called every bank in the area trying to find his girlfriend.

While my partner was working to find out who this man was, I had to remain calm and let the caller know that his life had value.  I told him how devastated his girlfriend would be if she came home and found out that he had taken his own life.  As frustrating as it was for him to deny every bit of help I tried to offer, I was able to keep him on the phone and convince him to stop taking pills and cutting.  Eventually his girlfriend arrived at home and the phone disconnected.  Later we found out that she took him to the hospital and he was alive.  After nearly two hours of speaking with this man, trying to find his location, and encouraging him to stop hurting himself, he lived.  I had to utilize my creativity, compassion, and perseverance to save this man’s life.  Finding out that the caller was alive after all of this was an indescribable feeling.  I knew from that day forward that I want to save as many lives as I can.

In another call, several months later, the phone rang and I heard a woman on the other end say, “I am ready to end my life, but if you are willing to help me I won’t do it.”  The woman did not have a ride and did not feel safe operating a vehicle so I told her that I could send the police to take her to the hospital.  The hard part was over, or so I thought.  I dialed 911 and explained the situation to the dispatcher.  The dispatcher told me that she could not do anything if the woman had not hurt herself yet and hung up on me.  I could not believe it.  In a panic, I called back and asked to speak with her manager, who then immediately sent the police. Although the police are in a position of authority, I was not going to take no for an answer.  Had I not called 911 again, the caller would have most likely ended her life.  As difficult as this situation was, I was able to persevere and save a life.

My experience at Suicide Prevention Services, without a doubt, has confirmed that I want to be a psychiatrist in the future.  This summer I have been writing essays for medical school applications which has allowed to me to reflect on my time at SPS.  My perception of what it is like to work in the mental health field has been transformed and I have learned so much.  I am so thankful to have had this opportunity and I hope to use these skills with my future patients as a psychiatrist.