Call for Help discontinues 24-hour suicide, crisis hotline

News-DemocratAugust 19, 2013 

The nonprofit organization Call for Help, Inc., in East St. Louis is ending its 24-hour suicide and crisis hotline at the end of this month after more than four decades of operation.

"Closing the hotline is a difficult decision since it is the service around which Call for Help was founded," Executive Director Cheryl Compton said. "It has indeed helped save many lives."

The hotline will be discontinued Aug. 31 as a result of a loss in federal funding and a steady decline in suicide calls.

"We began to see a trend that true suicide and crisis calls were diminishing," Compton said. "There's not a lot of calls coming in to the crisis line, and it's an expensive proposition to staff that 24/7."

In all, approximately 3,000 calls came into the hotline last fiscal year -- June 30, 2012, to July 1, 2013, according to Jim Braibish, who oversees fund development and communications for Call for Help. Of those calls, Compton said just over 400 were true emergency calls. Most of the calls were from people seeking information or referrals.

When the hotline was created in 1970, there was no suicide hotline service in the area. However, now multiple agencies provide similar hotline services, said Compton.

Compton estimated the cost of operating the hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at approximately $225,000. Those funds will be redirected toward a new daytime drop-in center for adults diagnosed with a mental illness. A portion of the Call for Help, Inc. campus on Lebanon Road will need to be remodeled into the center.

"We have seen a need to redirect that money to an area of service where there wasn't any duplication," she said. "It (the hotline) has become less and less of a need because of the growth of other services in the community."

The new drop-in center will be for chronically mentally ill people who are living in the community but really don't have any daytime activities," Compton explained, "and without structure in their lives sometimes it's more difficult for them -- they will become more withdrawn and their mental illness may exacerbate."

Compton said Call for Help worked closely with the hotline's main funders -- the Illinois Department of Mental Health, the St. Clair County Mental Health Board and the United Way of Greater St. Louis -- to plan the transition and identify the need for the daytime center.

Case management services will be provided as part of the drop-in center, which will be staffed by certified recovery support specialists.

"Those are people who had personal experience with mental illness," Compton said. "They do a really good job of connecting on a peer-to-peer level."

No drop-in center is currently available in the metro-east, Compton said. The center is expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014.

"We will have a net savings after the redirection of approximately $22,829 which will go toward remodeling costs and equipment costs for the drop-in center," Compton said.

For people with a mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, who needs immediate help, the following 24-hour crisis hotlines are available to metro-east residents:

* Behavioral Health Response, St. Louis, 800-811-4760.

* Provident Life Crisis Services, St. Louis, 314-647-HELP (4357).

* Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center (serving western St. Clair County).

* Chestnut Health Systems (serving eastern St. Clair County and southern Madison County).

* Wellspring Resources (serving northern Madison County).

Other services available through Call for Help include sexual assault victims care; a transitional living center for homeless young women; a community stabilization residential program for homeless mentally ill, and information and referral services.

Local residents can still contact Call for Help for crisis-related needs including 24-hour support for sexual assault victims, 397-0975; information and referral assistance for individuals and families facing urgent needs for rent, utilities and other essentials, 397-0968, during business hours; and residential transitional living programs for homeless young women and their children, and for homeless adults with mental illness, 397-0968, during business hours.

Call for Help Inc. operates on a $2.5 million annual budget and employs approximately 45 full- and part-time employees.

"We are trying to make the best use of the resources and meet the needs of the community," Braibish said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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