Volunteers at Headquarters, a 24-hour listening, information and counseling center, have been helping Douglas County residents cope with a variety of modern-living problems, ranging from relationship conflicts to substance abuse, for more than 20 years.
Recently, Headquarters reported nearly a 50 percent increase in suicide-related contacts.
``Suicide calls have really gone up over the last few months. Usually we receive approximately 35 suicide contacts (phone or drop-in counseling) per month, but throughout the summer we have been receiving over 55 contacts per month,'' said Marcia Epstein, Headquarters director.
Epstein said that Headquarters typically receives suicide calls in which people threaten to take a drug overdose or cut themselves.
Marcie, a volunteer at Headquarters, and an Overland Park graduate student majoring in counseling and psychology, remembers one evening when she engaged in ``a very traumatic and upsetting conversation.''
``The caller's voice was very soft and slow. He said that he could not take it anymore and was going to commit suicide. He said that he had already taken some pills and had a knife with him. I could not get him to tell he what he had taken, to put the knife away or reveal his location,'' Marcie said.
MARCIE began to notice that the caller was becoming increasingly incoherent and was drifting asleep. Marcie feverishly commanded the caller to stay awake and continued to attempt to obtain emergency information, when, suddenly, all she heard was a dial tone.
``Needless to say, I was extremely upset. I was completely helpless. I knew that this person was probably in need of emergency medical care but could do absolutely nothing to help him. All I could do was just hope and wait,'' Marcie said.
Several hours had passed before Marcie learned of the caller's fate. The caller decided to phone Headquarters and inform Marcie that he had only vomited and was planning to go for a walk.
``Suicide is really a growing problem. Every week, it seems as if we are receiving more and more suicide calls. People are fed up, disillusioned with their lives, and the earth,'' said Janel, a volunteer at Headquarters and senior at KU, majoring in biochemistry and French.
ACCORDING to the Headquarter's pamphlet entitled ``Suicidal Feelings,'' extreme mood swings, changes in physical appearance, low self-esteem, changes in sleep patterns, giving away of prized possessions, taking unusual risks, a lack of interest in future plans, having a plan of how to commit suicide, and talking indirectly about suicide are all signs of suicidal feelings.
Also, people are more prone to suicidal feelings when they experience a professional or personal loss, suffer from serious health problems, engage in substance abuse, or are unable to resolve interpersonal conflicts.
``You should always take a person who is talking about suicide seriously, and if you are really concerned about someone committing suicide, get professional help,'' Epstein said.
Epstein said that Headquarters trains its volunteers to direct people to professional help.
``WE DO NOT involve ourselves in therapy. Instead, we help the person find a trained person to talk with,'' Epstein said.
She also said that volunteers are trained to evaluate emergency situations, listen and empathize with contacts, convince contacts to remove potential suicide methods, and to gather necessary emergency information.
Headquarters has three paid staff workers. Last year Headquarters had more than 14,000 contacts and more than 18,000 volunteer hours donated. The agency is located at 1419 Mass.
A volunteer does not have to have any specialized professional experience but must successfully complete an extensive screening and 90-hour training program. Every volunteer must work a minimum of 4 hours a week and must remain an active volunteer for at least six months after completing the training course. Training programs begin at the start of every KU semester.
HEADQUARTERS is a non-profit organization that was founded in Lawrence in 1969, and offers all of its services for free. It provides an array of social services including general counseling, a 24-hour crisis hot-line, community information and referrals, drop-in counseling, suicide intervention, phone-a-friend, emergency housing, counseling on AIDS, substance abuse and birth control, and a speaker's bureau.
All counseling is completely confidential.
Headquarters is funded by three major sources. The United Way of Douglas County has allocated $40,469 from the current fund-raising drive. The KU Student Activity Fund annually provides $16,000, and private donations also are received.