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Mark Graham knew his son, Kevin, was sad. You can die of being sad. That, he didn’t know.

The suicide of Graham’s son was a painful realization of the crisis point in which those with mental health issues can find themselves.

It is then, or any time before that, that those who answer the phone for the Rutgers University National Behavioral Health Care Call Center hope to intervene.

If you need help

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

Graham, a former U.S. Army major general who now serves as the center’s executive director, said Operation Rutgers houses a vital local (and, increasingly, national) network of crisis lines and Support. About 350 employees work for the call center in some capacity. This is a number that is steadily increasing, as is the demand for these helpline resources.

Often motivated to make a difference by their own life stories, Graham said, it’s a group of committed professionals who answer those phones.

Graham’s commitment is also evident. He admits he didn’t know enough about mental health until his son suffered from depression, took his medication and ultimately committed suicide. Tragically, his other son, Jeffrey, died from an IED explosion while leading an army foot patrol in Iraq for the next eight months.

“Both were great young men,” he said, adding that his son Kevin was “fighting a mental battle.”

The call center.

Graham joined the Rutgers Call Center about a decade ago, after retiring from the military, to help run the center’s Vets4Warriors peer support line. More than half of the employees who answer the difficult calls of this “help line” are themselves veterans.

There are former police officers answering the phone on a Cop2Cop line, those experiencing the stresses of caring for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s on a Care2Caregiver number, retired nurses answering calls from their peers and child protection professionals who do the same.

The list continues.

“We have people — including independent licensed clinicians and mental health specialists — with certifications and accreditations from all walks of life,” Graham said. “They all use a model developed by the person in charge of our peer lines, called reciprocal peer support.”

The Rutgers center takes calls on 12 separate confidential lines, some of which, such as a support line for mothers of children with special needs, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some of the center’s lines are more country-focused; some field calls coming primarily from New Jersey residents.

All of this is a consequence of the work that clinicians began in 1995 with the Rutgers University Behavioral Health CareAccess Center.

“With everything we have now, we’ve had people visiting the center and when they left they said, ‘Who knows about all this and everything is fine here?'” he said. -he declares. “Between our support lines and our involvement with the state’s suicide hotline and the national mental health hotlines…there’s a lot going on.”

The center is one of five New Jersey facilities at the receiving end of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. And it’s the only such regional center, where professionals defuse crisis situations and connect callers to mental health services, operating 24 hours a day.

When someone with a New Jersey phone number calls a hotline like that, Graham explained, that’s a New Jersey call center they’ll be routed to first, before the call goes through. be taken to a national emergency centre.

Rutgers University’s National Behavioral Health Care Call Center was recently selected as one of twelve National Rescue Centers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which, beginning July 16, will be accessible by simply dialing the 988.

Graham said the center is busy training the appropriate number of staff they expect to need to handle overflow calls. The pandemic and other headlines — especially whenever there’s a celebrity suicide, Graham said — have already contributed to an increase in the number of calls their center receives daily.

“Whenever you get a surge of calls after an event, the call volume tends to stay at a higher level than before and never go back to what it was before,” Graham added. “During the pandemic, we have seen a lot of that. People have been alone, isolated and anxious.

The center, as it has for many years, will just adapt to the new rhythm of calls.

And its leaders say they are simply honored to have been selected to help people in crisis.

“We know we’re going to get a lot of calls, but that just means people are asking for help,” Graham said. “That’s the key. We need to eliminate the stigma by being willing to ask for help when they need it, and letting people know that all they need to do is dial three numbers.

Difficult calls

It’s the nearby recognizable calls that stand out CentraState Health Systemis Betsy Sunder; ones where a seasoned professional on the night shift responds to a caller who is likely under the influence, revealing that he is contemplating suicide.

CentraState operates one of New Jersey’s crisis call centers that operate from in-house health systems. In a situation like the one Sunder recounts, his own call center connects individuals to behavioral health crisis resources and could ask the police to perform a wellness check.

Sunder, CentraState’s psychiatric emergency services manager, said the center operates on-site at the medical center’s emergency department, with behavioral health therapists or psychiatric nurses responding to calls around the clock.

“We also welcome senior-level interns, who are in master’s programs in counseling or social work and who already have some field experience,” she said. “We train them to answer calls, usually by providing guidance during calls.”

Sunder is thrilled with the idea of ​​the 988 lineup. However, their call center’s interaction with it is limited, as the CentraState hotline handles caller triage itself.

What this in-house call center is currently experiencing is an increase in the number of older callers, Sunder said. These callers are familiar with the widely reported epidemic of loneliness among the elderly.

“We’ve had calls (in which) you know they just want to hear another voice and they just want to talk,” Sunder said. “So we’re going to spend time on those calls and try to connect them to elderly (recreational) services in towns, or home advice.”

Another regular opportunity today — a dilemma Sunder finds the most personally rewarding for callers to solve — is helping guide people reaching out on behalf of another loved one.

“A lot of times you can have a whole family unit in crisis, with a mother calling because she’s afraid of losing her 27-year-old child to an overdose or suicide,” she said. . “We want to help them understand that they have no power over their loved ones, that they can’t fix them – and that it’s okay to be afraid. We try to connect them with organizations that can help validate how they feel, with others who are going through the same thing as them.