Editor's Note: "Stories from the Helpline" is a recurring feature on The Bilerico Project, bringing in the personal accounts of Helpline counselors from The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that operates the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth. This installment comes from Richard Horton, a volunteer Helpline counselor on The Trevor Helpline. He volunteers at The Randy Stone West Coast Call Center in Los Angeles.
I am a new "in-training" counselor and recently had my first experience answering calls in Los Angeles. I wanted to share this experience.
Starting my shift, I was confident, a little scared and yet excited to actually have the opportunity to utilize the training I had received.
My two fellow "very experienced" counselors had let me answer the few calls that came in during our shift - which were just hang-ups. Around 9:45pm they let me answer yet another call which ended up being, not a hang-up, but my very first non hang-up call. A 17-year-old asking, how do you know if you're gay?
Okay, honestly I had all these notes in front of me (which I had carefully laid out before my shift started), but suddenly, all the training, at least for me, just fell into place. I didn't find myself needing to look at any notices, but rather just focus and listen to the caller.
"What is your name?" I asked.
We began talking, and, as this young person talked, I thought to myself, is this call for real or is this a test? I thought this simply because the caller had so many of the components I experienced in my practice role play calls during the training process.
After building rapport, of course, I asked the question: "Are you thinking of killing yourself," and he said, "Yes."
I think my heart jumped for a second, but without a blink, I just started asking all the questions I was taught to ask. Furthermore, I remember my instructors in training saying once you get on the train, don't get off, ask the questions and don't be hesitant - the caller knows they are calling a crisis suicide line.
So, yes, my caller stated he was thinking of killing himself, not immediately, had a means, and had attempted suicide in the past.
Why did I originally think this was perhaps a test call of some sort? The caller had a drug history; when I asked he if was using drugs that night, he said he was - marijuana. The caller stated he "was" a cutter; is on probation for theft; was thinking of having sex with a 24-year-old - ("Is that legal and will I get him in trouble?" He asked). And finally, as I recall, the caller thought his parents will disinherit him if he identifies as being gay.
Honestly, I think I had several role play calls during training which were very similar to this scenario.
I made it through the call, feeling confident along the way, asking questions of what he thought about certain things, eventually asking if he would consider resources, which he did. By the end of the call, he asked me what my name was, and the caller said, "Richard, thank you. Thank you."
He then said he was going to go to bed, going to sleep and was going to start a new day tomorrow.
I know some of the other experienced counselors on The Trevor Helpline, these are common calls. For me personally, it was my "first" call, and it was a call I will never forget.
I am looking forward to my second shift, feeling even more confident as I officially become a counselor on The Trevor Helpline.
Be sure to check out our previous installments of "Stories from the Helpline" from volunteer Wing-Sum Doud, Adrienne Smith, Michael Vacha Jr., Dave Reynolds, Brooke Carlson, Aneesh Sheth, Caroline Bird, Kyle Suchomel, and Daniel Sherman.