Jau­nimo Linija is the most well-known sui­cide hot­line in Lithua­nia. Julija Staskovskaja is one of the vol­un­teers be­hind the line who is ready to help oth­ers, but it is not with­out con­se­quences for her­self.

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Noah Groves & Emil Staulund Larsen

Jau­nimo Linija is the most well-known sui­cide hot­line in Lithua­nia. Julija Staskovskaja is one of the vol­un­teers be­hind the line who is ready to help oth­ers, but it is not with­out con­se­quences for her­self. With the sui­cide rate in Lithua­nia at 47.1 per 100,000 habi­tants (896 Lithua­ni­ans took their lives in 2015), the Baltic coun­try tops the EU sui­cide rank­ing and is among the world’s top ten coun­tries in the no­to­ri­ety (http://www.who.int/ gho/men­tal_health/sui­cide_rates/en/). Against the back­drop, the hot­line turns out to be the saviour for many from tak­ing the last step to death.

“When a per­son calls, the feel­ing is like noth­ing else ex­ists around me. My voice gets higher and my body gets tenser. I am deal­ing with a prob­lem at the mo­ment, and I am not think­ing about any­thing else. It's just be­tween me and that per­son,” says Julija Staskovskaja.

As the phone rings, you never know who will be call­ing. Is it a kid who is just play­ing? A per­son with re­la­tion­ship prob­lems who needs some­one to talk to? Or is it a per­son, who stands on the brink, ready to end their own life?

“At that mo­ment I am ner­vous, I am wor­ried about who it is now. I want to be use­ful, I want to help some­one.”

The room is open and bright. It’s all quiet at the mo­ment. Sit­u­ated in the room are small glass of­fices and a closed white door. Be­hind that door sit the vol­un­teers that take in calls that have the power to save lives. This is no or­di­nary of­fice. This is Jau­nimo Linija, a sui­cide hot­line.

From vic­tim to vol­un­teer

Julija Staskovskaja is one of over 200 vol­un­teers who work be­hind the phones for Jau­nimo Linija, Lithua­nia’s long­est run­ning emo­tional sup­port hot­line, founded in 1991. Self-harm and sui­ci­dal thoughts are one of the most com­mon rea­sons for peo­ple con­tact­ing the hot­line, with 7,396 calls, emails and chat con­ver­sa­tions re­ceived in the last year on this topic.

Around 900 Lithua­ni­ans die as a re­sult of sui­cide per year. While Jau­nimo Linija trans­lates to ‘Youth Line,’ around 9 per cent of re­ceived calls are from the el­derly who also re­quire anony­mous emo­tional sup­port. Still, the youth take ad­van­tage of the hot­line with 16 to 20 year olds mak­ing up the ma­jor­ity of call­ers.

“I can sym­pa­thise with some­one that is call­ing. I can feel what they are feel­ing,” says Staskovskaja.

For Staskovskaja, this isn’t just be­cause she is a self-con­fessed car­ing per­son or that her friends call her ‘mummy.’ She has her own per­sonal con­nec­tions that even­tu­ally lead her to Jau­nimo Linija.

Her fa­ther died from sui­cide in 2006 and the loss threw her into a de­pres­sion. His death later helped her to have a greater un­der­stand­ing about sui­cide from both sides of the line.

“I went to ther­apy and took drugs to deal with my de­pres­sion af­ter the sui­cide of my fa­ther. I read a lot of books and re­ally started to in­vest in un­der­stand­ing the phe­nom­ena of sui­cide.”

But the real prompt for Staskovskaja even­tu­ally be­com­ing a vol­un­teer was a more re­cent event that saw her par­tak­ing in essen­tially the same role as she does now on the hot­line. This time, with a per­sonal friend.

“My friend sent me a mes­sage which said, “I am sorry Julija, I have done a stupid thing.”

Staskovskaja knew im­me­di­ately this was re­lated to sui­cide.

“I called him and we talked for hours. I called an am­bu­lance and I even tried to call Jau­nimo Linija, but couldn’t, be­cause the lines were busy.”

Staskovskaja’s friend sur­vived and Jau­nimo Linija re­ceived a new vol­un­teer.

“Af­ter I went to sleep and woke up, I thought, “I am not an­gry, it doesn’t hurt”. Now I feel like I can go and vol­un­teer be­cause they re­ally need peo­ple.”

No pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions or de­gree is needed for some­one like Staskovskaja to be­come a vol­un­teer. The main req­ui­site is that a vol­un­teer syn­chro­nizes with the three core val­ues of Jau­nimo Linija: equal­ity, em­pa­thy and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“It's not a se­cret that you can get touched by sui­cide so closely. I was full of knowl­edge that I wanted to share and when I fi­nally got to, it was by me lis­ten­ing,” says Staskovskaja.

Jau­nimo Linija is the most pop­u­lar hot­line in Lithua­nia and is fac­ing the chal­lenge of an­swer­ing all the calls. In 2012, they were only able to pick up 1 in ev­ery 20 calls. To­day, they are able to pick up 1 in ev­ery 3 calls they re­ceive, as they now have more phone lines, vol­un­teers and sup­port from the gov­ern­ment.

Inside sup­port

Work­ing at a sui­cide hot­line can be a stress­ful task, and Ju­lia Staskovskaja is by no means im­mune to the emo­tional im­pact the calls can have. She claims it is im­por­tant to keep a dis­tance from the call­ers to pro­tect them­selves. As the calls are anony­mous, the vol­un­teers are un­able to know if the per­son they talked with has died from sui­cide.

“I had a call once where I knew a lot about the per­son. It was a re­ally high sui­cide risk. I googled af­ter to see if he had sui­cided. From that day, I de­cided not to google any­more,” says Staskovskaja, not want­ing to be­come too at­tached to the in­di­vid­u­als she talks to.

The vol­un­teers are al­ways al­lowed to pull out of a call if they get too af­fected by it. They are also en­cour­aged to talk with other vol­un­teers or pro­fes­sion­als about their calls. This is some­thing that Staskovskaja didn’t take ad­van­tage of.

“There was a time for five weeks that ev­ery Mon­day I would get a call from some­one who was at­tempt­ing sui­cide. Af­ter that, I got panic at­tacks. I wasn’t us­ing all the ser­vices that Jau­nimo Linija was of­fer­ing me. I thought I could han­dle it.”

The head of the hot­line asked Ju­lia Staskovskaja to talk with their sup­port, but she felt she needed to take care of it on her own.

“I went to drive, and the feel­ing was like I couldn’t con­trol any­thing. I pulled over and I called them,” re­calls Staskovskaja.

“Now it has be­come like a tra­di­tion to call in and say, ‘I am ok’ or ‘I am not ok, can we talk?’”

A trash bin for emo­tions

In the meet­ing room, the wall is cov­ered by pho­tos of vol­un­teers through­out the years. There is a strong com­mu­nity amongst them. Julija Staskovskaja even refers to them as ‘her lit­tle fam­ily’. She talks pas­sion­ately and with a smile about the hot­line and the com­mu­nity. She notes the emo­tional im­pact the phone calls have had on her own life.

“Some of the ex­pe­ri­ences might stay with me for years. If we were ro­bots, then maybe we would be able to for­get, but when you are a per­son, it is just im­pos­si­ble.”

“What­ever Jau­nimo Linija does to help us af­ter vol­un­teer­ing ses­sions, it is im­pos­si­ble to fully erase. We hear sto­ries you would never hear any­where else.”

For all the hard­ships and per­sonal strug­gles that come with work­ing as a vol­un­teer at a sui­cide hot­line, Staskovskaja is grate­ful for the im­pact she can have in com­bat­ting Lithua­nia’s high sui­cide rate.

“When I sit in my car go­ing home at night, I think about what a lucky life I have. How happy I am.”

The vol­un­teers stay usu­ally for about two years, but Staskovskaja has passed this mark and shows no signs of slow­ing down. She now works as a trainer for in­com­ing vol­un­teers, pass­ing on to them the knowl­edge, skills and life lessons she has learnt through her own ex­pe­ri­ences and through lis­ten­ing to oth­ers.

“In my fam­ily, there were is­sues about talk­ing, lis­ten­ing to each other, al­co­hol and sim­i­lar things. I think by be­ing here and lis­ten­ing, and by be­ing a trash bin for peo­ple's emo­tions, I can help.”

“There was a time for five weeks that ev­ery Mon­day I would get a call from some­one at­tempt­ing sui­cide. Af­ter that I got panic at­tacks. I wasn’t us­ing all the ser­vices that Jau­nimo Linija was of­fer­ing me. I thought I could ” han­dle it.

Ju­lia Staskovskaja doesn’t mind when kids prank call Jau­nimo Linija.when talk­ing with the kids, it of­ten turns out that they ac­tu­ally have prob­lems them­selves that they will open up about.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Latvia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.