Frequently Asked Questions
Want more information about our crisis line, privacy policies, services, and protocols? We’ve put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions to break down the process.
WHO CAN CALL
Q. I’m not suicidal. Can I call?
A. Yes! Almost 70% of our callers identify as not being suicidal at the time of their call.
Q. I’m worried about someone else who is suicidal. Can I call?
A. Absolutely! We can’t call the person directly, but we can provide guidance on how to address your concerns, assess for safety, and provide additional resources for the person you are worried about.
Q. Do I need to live in San Francisco to call?
A. No, you’re welcome to call us for emotional support, but to find resources and referrals in your area, we may direct you to call a local line.
Q. Will you tell anyone I called?
A. No. We have never provided confirmation of contact or released any call records. This is true for both adults and youth. The only times we lift confidentiality are in times of immediate physical danger, in which case we will only contact emergency services.
Q. Do you record calls?
A. We do not record the audio of any calls. We do write brief case notes for each call for reasons of accountability, evaluation, and optimization of individual service.
Q. Do you take notes?
A. We do write brief case notes for each call for accountability, evaluation, and optimization of individual service.
Q. Do you record my phone number?
A. Yes, we document it in our internal database but will only share it with an outside source in the case of an emergency. It is only used internally to identify repeat callers to customize optimal service for each individual. This customization is traditionally done for callers who call multiple times daily for months or years at a time, not individuals who call sporadically.
Q. Can you identify me?
A. We can identify people internally but not externally. That means we can usually identify if you’ve called multiple times, even if you have a blocked number by call themes. We won’t try to identify you outside of the calls we have here, unless you are in imminent danger, and we need to send in-person services.
Q. Do I have to give demographic information?
A. Nope! Your counselor may ask, but if at any point you say you’d prefer not to answer, your counselor is trained to not press the issue.
Q. I have medical questions about HIV or AIDS. Can a Nightline counselor answer them?
A. Our Nightline volunteers are trained in HIV transmission and prevention basics but are mainly here to provide emotional support to those living with HIV and AIDS.
Q. Can a Nightline counselor answer my questions about Hep C or other STDs?
A. The Nightline training currently covers only HIV and AIDS, but our counselors would be happy to provide referrals for information on Hep C and other STDs should you need them.
Q. I live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Can a Nightline counselor provide me with local referrals for testing and treatment?
A. The Nightline’s main purpose is to provide emotional support, but our volunteers do have access to a national registry of testing sites. You may be referred to a local HIV Hotline if you need treatment resources.
Q. When is the Nightline open?
A. The AIDS/HIV Nightline hours are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PROTOCOL
Q. Why won’t counselors talk about themselves?
A. We do not want the call to be about the counselor for a few reasons. First, the caller may focus the counselor’s call and not receive the support they called in for. Next, we find that if a counselor shares something that the caller finds unrelatable, they may no longer feel the support or insights of that counselor are valid. Last, our hotline is intended to be used for emotional support. If a counselor brings up a shared hobby or interest, it may lead the call into a different conversation that doesn’t address the emotional issues immediately at hand.
Q. Why am I always asked if I’m suicidal?
A. All callers are asked if they’re suicidal to help discern safety concerns and prioritize the most in crisis callers. If multiple calls come in at once, we will ask all callers about their risk of suicide and take whichever person is in the most acute state of crisis OR called in first. Similarly, we need to know right away if a caller has already initiated a suicidal attempt, such as administering an overdose.
Q. How come your office in San Francisco answers when I call the National Hotline?
A. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is a routing service that directs calls to the closest participating suicide hotline. Routing is by area code, so all 415 numbers are first routed to our office. If a center is too busy, calls may be rolled over to the next closest suicide hotline. Because of this, 510 and 650 numbers are sometimes directed to our center.
CALLING ON BEHALF OF SOMEONE ELSE
Q. Someone I know is depressed, and I think he may be suicidal. Can you give them a call to check-in?
A. Unfortunately, we are unable to make calls out to individuals based on third-party information. We recommend you have the depressed individual call us directly if possible.
Q. Someone has told me plainly that they plan to commit suicide. Can you send the police?
A. We can provide you with phone numbers for any emergency services you need, but we cannot send services to an individual based on third-party information.
Q. What happens when I call in?
A. You will first hear a recording describing our agency’s name and the fact that your call will not be recorded. The phone will ring until a counselor picks up – sometimes, this may take longer if they’re on the line with someone else already. The counselor will introduce our service, offer their name and ask you for yours. To determine risk of suicide, the counselor will start asking questions about what brought you to call, to prioritize any potential safety concerns.
Q. Do counselors read from a script?
A. No, none of our counselors read from scripts. Additionally, each counselor has a personal style and certain frameworks for understanding and communicating with others in crisis, including repeating phrases. This is an unintended but inevitable effect of the crisis line model.
Q. How often can I call?
A. For callers who have access to a lethal means and intent to attempt suicide, we request that they call as frequently as they need to maintain safety. Of course, if it doesn’t seem like de-escalation through phone counseling is an option, we may encourage emergency in-person intervention. For all callers who are not imminently suicidal, we ask that they call no more than once every four hours.
Q. What happens if I decide to stop talking and hang up mid-call
A. In most cases, we will accept this as your choice. However, if you seemed to be actively engaged in attempting, we will attempt to call you back.
Q. How long are the calls?
A. Generally, calls are between 10-15 minutes. Certain circumstances warrant lengthier calls.
Q. Will you call the police on me?
A. We have called the police to intervene, but it is a very rare last resort that is discouraged as common protocol. We will only call the police if a person indicates they have intent to use a lethal plan they have access to within the next 24 hours, and after an extended period of dialogue still seem intent on attempting. We can only send services to people about whom we have enough information, usually address but in some occasions a phone number alone will suffice.
Q. Will you call Child Protective Services?
A. We are required by mandated reporting laws to call child protective services on any qualifying call content. If a minor is being physically, sexually, emotionally abused, or neglected, we will need to collect identifying information to report to CPS.
Q. Will you call 911 for a friend who I am worried about?
A. We can only call 911 on behalf of someone we’re speaking to directly. We’re happy to act as a sounding board for any callers considering calling 911 on behalf of a loved one and supply directions on how to do it safely and in the most supportive way.
Q. Under what circumstances would you call the police on me?
A. If a caller states that they are definitely going to attempt a potentially lethal act within the next 24 hours and have a clear and accessible plan, we will do everything in our power to de-escalate this suicidal intent. If there’s no change in suicidal intent after an extended conversation, we will try to locate the caller and send in-person help. When available and appropriate, we send alternate mental health support. We never call in-person services for someone who says they have suicidal thoughts and no plan, or a plan with no intention to use it.
Q. What would happen if you were to call the police on me?
A. If, after a long conversation, the caller still seems committed to attempting, we will ask them if they’d like to access in-person intervention with our help. If not, we will encourage them to call emergency services themselves. If they continue to decline and state their intent to attempt, we will try to find their location. First, we will ask the caller for their location, but we may investigate prior call records to find one if they don’t offer it. If we have a phone number for the person calling in, we can call emergency dispatch, and sometimes they can find the location based on the number, whether or not it’s landline or cell. Depending on the accuracy of the emergency personnel’s address and availability, it will take varying times for them to arrive, if at all. We always inform callers when we have contacted services unless we feel that it might prompt a physically dangerous act to one’s self or others.
Q. If I’ve completed a hotline training elsewhere, do I still have to go through SFSP’s training?
A. Yup! Sorry, different suicide hotlines have a different protocol, and we want to make sure we’re on the same page. We’re sure there’s the stuff that’ll be familiar, but many things will be new, too! That said, we’d love to hear your perspective on how things were different at your former agency and maybe use your expertise to improve our own protocol.
Q. What’s the difference between counseling as a volunteer and as an intern?
A. It’s very similar, but interns participate in our clinical supervision group once a week on Thursday nights, from 6 pm – 8 pm. This internship is reserved for individuals collecting hours for MFT licensure. We have support groups and continuing education to provide guidance for volunteers who are not on their way to licensure but would still like additional clinical insight.
Q. Can I take calls from home?
A. No, all of our calls are taken from our call room in downtown San Francisco; there is no way to take calls from outside our agency. This is vital to protecting confidential client information and allowing staff to monitor calls for quality evaluation. Volunteers who have done other call work from home have commented on how much better it is to take calls in a call center, mostly because the supportive community is vital to preventing burnout. Call content is heavy, and debriefing with shift partners helps our volunteers maintain enthusiasm for the work.