Crisis hotlines inundated with calls after celebrity suicides

Crisis hotlines inundated with calls after celebrity suicides

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At the Bozeman Help Center, a 24-hour hotline and referral center in Montana, Perrin Lundgren had just finished a busy overnight shift fielding calls from people in crisis when she heard the news.

It was 8 a.m. last Friday, just a few days after fashion designer Kate Spade’s suicide, which led to a 30 percent increase in calls to the hotline. Lundgren, a licensed counselor, was driving home when she learned of another suicide: celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

“I pulled over and sent a message back to the help center saying this is breaking news, they’re not sure it’s suicide-related,” she said, “so the person on shift if they hadn’t heard, did.”

Lundgren knew that once again, the center — one of more than 160 certified crisis centers across the U.S. through which calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are routed — would need to put backup counselors on standby to handle additional calls, as happened on Tuesday after Spade’s suicide. Call levels remained high into the weekend.

In a dizzying week that saw two celebrities taking their own lives, phone numbers for suicide hotlines were ubiquitous: published by news outlets and plastered across social media, with reminders to reach out to places like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help.

The result was a surge of traffic to crisis hotlines, some of which beefed up staffing twice last week — once after Spade’s death and again after Bourdain’s.

Samaritans of Greater Boston, a volunteer suicide prevention organization, saw a 60 percent increase in calls from Wednesday, the day after Spade died, through Saturday, the day after Bourdain died, compared to what the service has been averaging in recent months.

“Friday night, one of our long-term volunteers said it was the busiest night he had handled in about 12 years,” Steve Mongeau, the organization’s executive director, said.

At Crisis Text Line, an intervention service that uses texts, “spike teams” — volunteers who sign on at a moment’s notice when needed — were activated to account for a large increase in requests for help over the weekend, said Liz Eddy, Crisis Text Line’s director of communications. There was an 116 percent increase in volume from Friday to Sunday compared to the weekend before, she said. That’s far more than the usual surge of 20 to 30 percent after a high-profile suicide, she said.

Samaritan Volunteers Text A Path To Hope
Jarrod LaBarge, a volunteer at the Samaritans suicide hotline, works in his cubicle during a shift in Boston on Dec. 15, 2017.Suzanne Kreiter / Boston Globe via Getty Images file

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, whose number appeared in many news articles and social media posts, saw a 25 percent increase in calls nationally as of Friday morning, said John Draper, the lifeline’s director. The organization did not immediately provide updated data following the weekend.

Draper said the reason for the uptick is two-fold: a celebrity suicide can trigger suicidal thoughts in people who might already vulnerable to them, and publicizing the phone number to call for support increases odds that people will call.

“When the public is aware of a resource that can help them, it increases calls considerably,” Draper said.

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