WASHINGTON -- When someone is in crisis and feeling despondent, reaching out for help is a stronger step to take than doing nothing, which can lead to a worsening state, a Military Crisis Line responder told American Forces Press Service Sept. 9.
Tricia Lucchesi of Canandaigua, N.Y., said she encourages service members, families, veterans and friends to feel comfortable calling the crisis line.
She said people contact the crisis line to discuss a variety of issues, from feeling suicidal, depressed or anxious to feeling pressure from finances or relationships, among a wealth of other concerns.
"I want to encourage people to reach out, day or night, any day of the year," Lucchesi said. "Our veterans and service members that do the best are the ones who make those calls."
To reach skilled responders who are knowledgeable of military culture, dial 1-800-273-8255 and press No. 1. The crisis line also is available by cell-phone text by dialing 838255, or through online chat at http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ActiveDuty.aspx.
Lucchesi said callers can expect a live person and not an electronic menu to answer their calls.
People can call the crisis line to speak with trained professionals about their problem safely, anonymously and confidentially, "which is really important," Lucchesi said.
"We stay on the phone for as long as it takes," she added. "We'll do whatever we need to do to get that person the help that he needs," she added.
Callers receive a follow-up call from a suicide prevention coordinator the next day, or another professional who's linked into the crisis line team. A "compassionate callback," follows about 10 days afterward, Lucchesi said, to make sure the callers connected with the services they needed, and so responders can make sure callers are feeling better.
The Military Crisis Line, also known as the Veterans Crisis Line at the same phone and text numbers, is a joint effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. It provides worldwide services for active duty troops, veterans, family members and concerned friends of those in crisis, Lucchesi said.
"Suicide has become such a prominent issue, the [departments] are working closely together to create a system to assist our members without them having to worry about their careers or confidentiality," she said.
As the nation observes Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, Lucchesi said, she wants people to know they will find a welcoming environment of helpful responders who will stay on the phone with a caller until a "safety plan" is in place. A safety plan varies by individual, she explained, but can typically involve callers committing to seeking suggested help and various resources, and taking other actions such as securing weapons and pills that could be used to take one's life.
"Just agreeing with somebody that they can do that, and knowing they're going to get some help takes away some of the hopeless feelings they have," she said. "Isolation is an issue for many of our veterans, service members and their families. We're here 24/7, and we never want anyone to feel alone. They don't have to sit in emotional turmoil all by themselves."
Responders don't want veterans or military personnel to become suicidal, Lucchesi said. "We much prefer that they call us when they're in crisis so we can point them to services. We don't want to risk losing any of them," she added. "Any person who calls the crisis line has the choice about how much information they want to share".
The only time an anonymous call could require more identifying information is when the need for help delves further, but only when the caller gives permission to link to such resources, Lucchesi noted.
DOD leadership has for several years worked to remove the perceived stigma attached to seeking mental health help. Lucchesi said she hopes a reduced stigma is why the crisis line has produced an increase in calls, chats and texts. Yet, there are other reasons why contacting the crisis line has increased, she said.
"People who have used the line learned we're not just going to send rescue out to them. They can call here for all kinds of reasons, and if they can [set up a] safety plan, they don't have to worry about a policeman or emergency services showing up at their door," Lucchesi said.
"We're very aware that [such actions] can cause a financial burden, increase stigma, and be a problem for some people," she added, but noted that it crisis line responders are concerned someone is about to take his or her life, emergency services might be necessary.
Lucchesi emphasized the importance of contacting the crisis line – by calling, texting or chatting, whichever is more comfortable for a person in crisis.