But for those who still struggle with mental health issues, the hotline is a key resource designed to address the specific needs of servicemembers. If a caller is enrolled in the VA healthcare system, their medical records can be instantly accessed by a counselor on the other end of the phone. And information from the hotline consultation gets dropped right into their medical file. All counselors are trained to understand the specific mental health risk factors involved in serving in the military – the difficulty of re-entry to civilian life for instance, the trauma of PTSD or the emotional difficulty of dealing with changed family or employment circumstances.
Recently a call came in to the center from a young man living on a houseboat in New York harbor. He called the crisis line on his cell phone. He said he wanted to pass along some messages to his loved one and then, said Dr. Kemp. His intention was to just head out of the harbor on his boat and not come back. "We were able to keep him on the phone for a bit and contact the New York Harbor Patrol. As he dropped the call for the last time, they were able to get his location and they did bring him back," said Kemp. Or there was the mother talking to her active duty son via Skype. He grabbed a gun and threatened to kill himself while she watched. "The mother was able to call us," said Kemp, "and we stayed on the phone while emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene." The mother actually watched the rescue on her computer, Kemp said.
The suicide prevention conference wraps up this week in Boston.
The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).