By Nick Tabor, New Era Senior Staff Writer
The Pennyroyal Mental Health Center is increasing the scope of its crisis call-in center, trying to eliminate access barriers and fully saturate this section of Western Kentucky.
The call service now belongs to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, so lifeline callers whose phone numbers link them to this region automatically get connected to Pennyroyal Mental Health instead of a center in Louisville.
Further, the call center introduced a text message service last week and will soon offer Internet chatting.
This should encourage teens and young adults to take the first step in seeking help, said Audra Scott, the Pennyroyal Center’s coordinator of crisis services.
Kenneth Foster, one of eight full-time clinical assessors who answer crisis calls, said this doesn’t change the nature of the job much. But that’s why the Pennyroyal Center wanted to add these services in the first place — it fits so well with what they were already doing, Scott said.
She said the RESPOND Center has been in place for many years. It’s the point of entry for all new Pennyroyal Center clients, and it answers all phone calls after business hours.
Some callers only want information about Pennyroyal Center programs. But others need someone to talk them down from the brink of suicide, or they feel panicked or depressed and don’t know what they want, Foster said.
Say a war veteran calls in, crying, and says he’s going through drug withdrawals. A counselor might help him think of reasons to live and help him make a short-term plan to avoid killing himself. Then the counselor could arrange an appointment with a therapist, so the veteran could learn about substance abuse programs the Pennyroyal Center offers.
All local advertisements for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are now effectively ads for the Pennyroyal crisis center.
Carole Ludwig, the lifeline’s network development manager, said it helps having local participation.
“While any center in the network can assess a caller for risk, and provide emergency services if necessary, local crisis centers are able to provide the most up-to-date information about local resources within their community,” Ludwig wrote in an email.
The Pennyroyal Center received a couple thousand dollars for joining the network and will receive a small amount every year as compensation for its staff resources, Scott said. The Suicide Lifeline operates on federal grant money, and it requires its crisis centers to be licensed or accredited, Ludwig said.
To introduce the text message service, the Pennyroyal Center received a three-year grant. When a local number sends the Pennyroyal Center a message, the text shows up on a computer in the call center. Assessors can type in their responses.
Even if a person is just having a bad day or needs advice for a tough situation, the call center can help, Scott said. She hopes this format will make young people more comfortable.
“That’s what they do,” she said. “They prefer to text.”
The Internet chatting service comes free as part of joining the suicide prevention hotline, Scott said. Pennyroyal Center technicians are still working out kinks, so Scott doesn’t know exactly when it will become available.