The silent ministry
Answering phone calls to keep those suffering alone alive.
by Ken Ramstead –
In Canada, for more than a century, The Salvation Army’s Suicide Prevention Services have been saving lives, one telephone call at a time.
“I’m going to kill myself today.”
Sabrina Mohamed answered the call that night from the Army’s suicide prevention services in Hamilton, Ontario.
“There was no preamble,” says Sabrina, describing the call, “so I knew it was going to be intense.”
The woman’s suicide plan was chilling in its simplicity. She planned to point a loaded gun at a police officer, forcing him to take her life.
Not knowing the woman’s location, Sabrina quickly had to establish a level of trust with the woman. “I wanted her to talk to me, to tell me what was going on in her mind, and to know I was there for her,” she said. She kept her on the line for precious minutes while police verified the woman’s whereabouts.
Moments later, Sabrina received a call from a police contact informing her that the woman had been safely apprehended.
A Proud Record
Calls like this are all in a day’s work for The Salvation Army’s suicide prevention services. “We’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Stephanie Oliver, the program director. With a full-time staff of five and a team of trained volunteers, the suicide crisis line answered 3,491 calls in 2006, from as far away as Las Vegas.
“I like to refer to the crisis line as ‘the silent ministry,’” Oliver said. “The team works quietly behind the scenes while the rest of the world is going about its daily business.”
Thousands have called for help, including a young woman waiting to jump in front of the next oncoming train, a man preparing to hang himself from his 11th story balcony, a couple sitting in their garage as it filled with carbon monoxide after their only child died, and a young woman who had been sexually assaulted at a party and contemplated suicide so her parents wouldn’t find out—all of whom are still alive.
Somewhere to Turn
Many organizations and government services direct distressed individuals to the Army’s suicide prevention services. “We must be doing something right,” Oliver said. “Our telephone number can be found in the front of local telephone books along with other frequently called emergency numbers.”
This past fall, Oliver represented the Canada and Bermuda Territory at the International World Congress on Suicide Prevention, held in Ireland. There, 800 delegates from 43 countries applauded the Army’s suicide prevention efforts.
Katie Siemon, an on-call supervisor who lost a close friend to suicide, said she waits at the phone because, “There is a wonderful sense of relief and purpose that comes from knowing someone is alive because of you.”