Calls for help over­whelm Dis­tress Cen­tre

The Welland Tribune - - Front Page - AL­LAN BEN­NER

A feel­ing of dread over­came Colleen Mayer when the thought oc­curred to her.

She won­dered: What if her son Daryl had made a last des­per­ate call for help be­fore he took his own life on March 25, 2015, and what if that call was an­swered with a busy sig­nal?

“If that was his last call, it mor­ti­fies me,” she said.

Mayer has called the Dis­tress Cen­tre Ni­a­gara’s 24-hour cri­sis phone num­ber re­peat­edly in the past sev­eral weeks — af­ter re­cent deaths in St. Catharines brought the is­sue to the fore­front in the com­mu­nity.

She was test­ing the ser­vice to see if she could get through to a cri­sis worker, but her calls were al­most al­ways an­swered with the repet­i­tive beep of a busy sig­nal.

Mayer will never know if her 24-year-old son made a last call for help, but she said the un­cer­tainty is enough to make her worry about oth­ers who may now be fac­ing the same de­spair that claimed Daryl’s life.

“That is why this needs to change,” she said.

Mayer has re­cently teamed up with like-minded St. Catharines res­i­dents, plan­ning to in­cor­po­rate as a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion called Ni­a­gara United to ad­dress so­cial prob­lems grip­ping the com­mu­nity. Sev­eral mem­bers of the group met at a down­town St. Catharines café on Fri­day, and again called all four of the Dis­tress Cen­tre’s 24-hour cri­sis lines only to hear busy sig­nals.

That sce­nario — a des­per­ate call for help be­ing an­swered with a busy sig­nal — also fills Stacy Terry with a feel­ing of dread.

“We ab­so­lutely share that con­cern,” she said.

But Dis­tress Cen­tre Ni­a­gara’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s vol­un­teers are be­ing over­whelmed.

“We re­ceive over 15,000 calls a year. That’s about 288 calls a month. The de­mand is high for our ser­vices,” she said.

Terry said there’s cur­rently no way to track the num­ber of peo­ple who have called for help, only to give up af­ter hear­ing a busy sig­nal.

“I wish I had those num­bers,” she said. “I wish we did have the tech­nol­ogy to track our aban­don rates. That is an­other op­tion that we’ve looked at with the dis­tress line.”

Al­though the or­ga­ni­za­tion is con­tin­u­ally re­cruit­ing, screen­ing and train­ing vol­un­teers, she said it would take at least 250 peo­ple re­quired to meet the need — more than twice its cur­rent num­ber of vol­un­teers.

“If peo­ple have an in­ter­est and a de­sire to help in their commu-

nity in this way, the Dis­tress Cen­tre is an ex­cel­lent place to come and be that front line sup­port to this com­mu­nity,” Terry said. “We’re work­ing with the most vul­ner­a­ble and work­ing with peo­ple who need our sup­port.”

Even if Dis­tress Cen­tre Ni­a­gara could bring in enough vol­un­teers, Terry said some callers might still get a busy sig­nal de­pend­ing on how busy they are.

Mayer said other cri­sis lines in the re­gion — Path­stone Men­tal Health’s youth cri­sis line at 1-800263-4944, and Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion’s Cri­sis Out­reach and Sup­port Team (COAST) line at 1-866-550-5205 — are promptly an­swered by ei­ther a cri­sis worker or an au­to­mated sys­tem. And if those agen­cies can do it, she won­ders why the Dis­tress Cen­tre can’t do the same.

While some peo­ple have said they’d rather hear a busy sig­nal so they know some­one is there an­swer­ing phones, oth­ers would rather leave a mes­sage or wait for the next avail­able vol­un­teer.

“We ad­ver­tise as a con­fi­den­tial ser­vice and peo­ple choose to call us some­times be­cause we don’t sub­scribe to call dis­play,” Terry said.

Terry said she had hoped to work with mem­bers of the re­cently formed group af­ter meet­ing them at a Ni­a­gara Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Coali­tion meet­ing ear­lier this week.

“I wish they would have talked about fur­ther so­lu­tions that they saw and given the op­por­tu­nity for us to share with them some of our strug­gles, par­tic­u­larly around the com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether in that call out for in­di­vid­u­als who want to help,” she said.

Ni­a­gara United is also re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers through its web­site, ask­ing for peo­ple will­ing to visit areas in the com­mu­nity where re­cent deaths have oc­curred to help peo­ple in dis­tress. More in­for­ma­tion is avail­able on the group’s Face­book page: www.face­book.com/ni­a­gara­s­tand­sunited; and its web­site: ni­a­ga­rau­nited.org.

AL­LAN BEN­NER THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

Colleen Mayer, left, meets with like-minded com­mu­nity mem­bers con­cerned about re­cent sui­cides in the city.

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