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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 30, 2010

National frontrunner
Crisis Chat provides online help to deter suicide

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

“We are ready and waiting for the chats to come in,” says Jill Wolski Ordonez who has been instrumental in setting up the area’s first online emotional support system for suicide prevention.

It’s called Crisis Chat and is reached at www.CrisisChat.org.

Ordonez, as director of United Way 2-1-1 and Contact Lifeline, also oversees a phone hotline. She said that many people now do not think about calling when they are in trouble; they reach out through their computers or handheld devices — which are both familiar to them and private.

Ordonez points out that suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 18 to 24 — the same group that often uses online chatting and texting to communicate.

Contact Lifeline was founded locally in 1985 as the Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center and can still be reached at 689-4673.

The local Crisis Chat project is part of a nationwide effort and is one of two frontrunners — the other is in Texas — to link crisis centers nationwide on one website platform.

“There are small centers like ours all across the United States, linked by a network,” said Ordonez. “All of us are realizing we need to reach out in other ways. There’s not a lot of guidance on how to do this,” she said.

Contact – USA is a national network of helplines that says it offers “a safe, nonjudgmental place for callers to express their concerns and frustrations as they experience grief, loneliness, parental stress, abuse, hunger, pain, or suicidal feelings.” The centers also provide information and referral services as well as training for their volunteers and community members.

Contact Lifeline is one of over 140 crisis centers that are part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — that answered 10,000 calls last year.

Ordonez is on the board of Contact USA and, as part of that, she helped write the first standards for Crisis Chat, which includes both administrative and training guidelines.

Staffers have been trained doing mock chats, and the project is being marketed to schools and through the Albany County Health Department, Ordonez said. The staff members for Crisis Chat are trained volunteers and specialists who can respond to people in distress with compassion to deter them from suicide.

The website describes itself as “a place to talk about problems and stress that may be difficult to talk about anywhere else… a place to find non-judgmental support and help through a difficult time. Crisis Chat is a place to find information on mental health problems and services. It’s a confidential, secure, and anonymous way of reaching out for help when you don’t know where else to turn.”

The website also describes emotional support if offers as:

—    Compassionate, non-judgmental listening;

—     Exploration of feelings, thoughts, and options;

—     Suicide risk assessment; and

—     Exploration of positive next steps and options.

The site uses Google Analytics, it says, “to perform internal statistical analysis of our website traffic to help us understand how people use our online services and to enable us to better tailor our services to the needs of our users.”

Small text files on users’ computers, called cookies, generate information about the visitor’s use of the website, including the URL, the IP address, geographical location, date and time of visit to the site, and the URL of another site if the visitor linked from that site to Crisis Chat.

Google Analytics, the site says, does not collect personal information such as names, addresses, or telephone numbers.

The Crisis Chat site provides a “mental health library” with articles on topics ranging from abuse and anxiety to vomiting fears and winter depression.

Crisis Chat also provides fact sheets on mental-health concerns and screening tests from eMentalHealth.ca, a project of the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health in Ottawa, Canada.

The local initiative is supported by Family and Children’s Service of the Capital Region.

Ordonez pointed out that negative messages about suicide are prevalent on the Internet, easily accessible to anyone searching online for “how to kill myself” or “I want to die.” Crisis Chat, instead, is offering hope and a chance to connect to people who feel desperate.

Crisis Chat is now open Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m., according to a release from Family and Children’s Service; the project is poised to expand its hours and modes of communication to text, e-mail, social networking, and message boards as additional volunteers and funding are secured.

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