Maybe you are reading this because you care about your own relationship to suicidal feelings or because you have been the caretaker of others going through similar struggles. This type of energy, that caring energy, is what got this agency going and still moves us forward today. I chose to start volunteering on the SFSP HIV Nightline in late 2003 because I had been looking for a place to volunteer for sometime. I chose the HIV Nightline because I myself had contracted HIV and a friend invited me to join with him and I’m glad I did. At that time, I did not think that I would be staying with the agency for years nor did I anticipate it would lead to my career. What is nice about this process is that it was organic and so the fit felt right.
I would say I was pretty open minded and had compassion for others when I came to SFSP, but the depth of my compassion and my understanding of the diverse and unique challenges people face has certainly grown during my time here. SFSP and the wonderful environment the staff and volunteers create have allowed me to develop self compassion and self awareness to a much higher degree than before I came here. I can’t really say how long I will stay with SFSP, I guess it is until it doesn’t feel right anymore.
People can feel suicidal for so many reasons, like housing or job loss, death of a loved one or pet, or a decline in health. I too struggled with suicidal thoughts when coming out as gay and when testing positive for HIV. I lost social support and opportunities at each of those times in my life. Often times it is in enduring that emotional pain while feeling isolated that suicidal thoughts come into play. Isolation alone can become an aching pain that becomes overwhelming. For many, suicide is the mind’s escape route during that time of unbearable suffering. After knowing that pain or surviving a suicide attempt, it becomes very rewarding to provide a non-judgemental ear and be that kind soul to someone who is hurting. I know those that have contact with us feel less alone after doing so. We do that in many ways, through outreach and on our phone lines.
Another way we do this is through social media. We sometimes have exchanges with those on facebook and twitter. It doesn’t always have to be an exchange though, we feel that when someone sees one of our posts they feel a part of that same connectedness. When I create social media content I try to think of ways to engage followers in self care activities, provide validation, raise awareness or reduce stigma. I also try to create content that is accessible to someone who may not be able to leave the house or even their bed. Depression, anxiety and other conditions can limit some people from getting outside so I sometimes will do a series of photos from a walk in a nice place. Making something accessible to someone really conveys how much you care about them. I feel we do this on social media in ways we cannot if we rely only on someone initiating contact with us.
Another way social media has been a great tool is in fundraising and being able to respond very quickly to social events. These advantages don’t come without their own challenges however. Because of the nature of our services we have to remain vigilant despite having a disclosure about our social media platform not being a crisis service. Sometimes people reach out to us on social media who are in crisis and we want to connect them to our hotline or other appropriate services. Having a small staff means that myself and one or two other staff members keep an eye on this 24/7. We also find that our volunteer pool and former volunteers stay more connected because of facebook and other social media which is a wonderful thing!
by: Jeremy Garza, Overnight Coordinator