Volunteers Help Provide Emotional First Aid at the Memphis Crisis Center
Crisis Callers Receive Emotional Support and Resources
The Memphis Crisis Center takes calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 901-CRISIS7. Suicide calls are only one of many types of calls the center receives.
The Memphis Crisis Center is a full-service crisis line, receiving calls for emotional wellness, mental health issues, grieving, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, elder neglect and material needs. In addition to the main crisis line, the center operates Call 4 Kids, Elder Lifeline and the HIV Care Hotline.
The Memphis Crisis Center also provides an after-hours answering service for the Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center. As the local affiliate of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Veterans Hotline, the center also receives a few calls from outside of the Shelby County area.
“Our primary goal is to be here to listen and do some collaborative problem-solving and link people to the long-term resources they need,” said Michael LaBonte, executive director of the Memphis Crisis Center.
How Volunteers Help Prevent Crises From Escalating
According to LaBonte, the act of listening to someone and providing emotional support can prevent a crisis from escalating. He said that when the center receives a call, the volunteer on the call takes the time to make a compassionate connection with the caller.
“We use the least intrusive means necessary when dealing with callers,” said LaBonte.
When a call comes in, the trained volunteer assesses the safety of the caller and determines if it’s a suicide call. While many potential callers may think that emergency services are sent out when they call for help, that’s usually not the case. LaBonte said that they typically de-escalate the situation, engage in safety planning and link the caller to needed resources in the community to help them through their situation.
The Memphis Crisis Center is a confidential service that provides a type of emotional first aid, which LaBonte compares to CPR — doing what’s necessary to keep the caller going until they receive more assistance.
“We’re the people doing the CPR, linking folks to available resources to work their way through a crisis,” said LaBonte. “Oftentimes when people are in crisis, there’s a tunnel vision that kind of takes over, and people may forget the resources in their own lives. What we try to do is turn that tunnel into a funnel and bring some of those resources that are already there back into perspective.”
Helping the Memphis Crisis Center
“We could not do what we do without our community partners, including the Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center, the United Way of the Mid-South, the Family Safety Center, UT Health Science Center and Baptist Memorial Health Care,” said LaBonte.
Right now, what the center needs is more trained volunteers to take calls. LaBonte said that since the start of the pandemic, they’ve lost several volunteers and have been trying to rebuild capacity.
“A lot of people are afraid to work on crisis lines, but more people can do this than think they can,” said LaBonte.
Volunteers complete a 40-hour training process, offered at various times throughout the year.