how to volunteer for a suicide hotline and yet go to work well-rested?
November 25, 2016 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of volunteering for a suicide hotline. I found the Samaritans', but their volunteer program requires one overnight shift per month. I work 9-5, and cannot afford to show up sleep-deprived on a regular basis. Are there alternatives that do not require overnight shifts? How much sleep can I expect to get during one of the Samaritans' overnight shifts?
posted by d. z. wang to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you prefer a voice call based hotline, but Crisis Text Line doesn't specify that it requires overnight shifts in their sign-up requirements.
posted by smangosbubbles at 8:29 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you checked if you could do these shifts on Friday or Saturday nights? Even on a Sunday you could perhaps sleep before the overnight shift.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Find out what they mean by "overnight" - is it 4-12, 6pm-2am, 9-9?

That could make a bit difference...
posted by Toddles at 8:37 PM on November 25, 2016

The shifts are 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., Sunday through Thursday. I believe that means Sunday 11 p.m. to Monday 8 a.m., out to Thursday 11 p.m. to Friday 8 a.m.

I think I would prefer a voice-based service, but that's not a well-researched opinion. I hadn't known the Crisis Text Line existed. Although maybe the fact that I've sent fewer than 10 messages this year and had to look up what "Text" meant is going to make that plan, like, E.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:09 PM on November 25, 2016

A friend of mine did volunteer work for a rape crisis organization, and in her case, the short answer is - sometimes you aren't well rested. My friend often had shifts where she wouldn't get any calls, but sometimes not only had calls, but she had to get up and go meet the person who called at the hospital (this was a role where that sort of thing happened, obviously it sounds like what you are talking about is not the same thing). When that happened, she was pretty tried at work the next day, and, obviously, you couldn't predict when it would happen.

This is all to say - I would ask the volunteer coordinator how many calls they expect you to get during an overnight shift. Through a locally based organization, it's very possible that the overnight shift only receives calls occasionally, but someone is available to answer 24/7 (that is, your phone is turned on and is next to you, but you are sleeping.) If they receive calls occasionally, you might be in a position where you are comfortable sacrificing your sleep for a few days per year.
posted by nuclear_soup at 9:20 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I volunteer for a hotline and I found that initially, it was very difficult to sleep-- even if I wasn't called, I spent all night anxiously sitting by the phone. It got better with time because I felt more confident that I could handle things that came my way, so I could move on with my evening, and even sleep. The sleep obviously still isn't as good and is highly variable (ranging from 1-2 hours less than my normal 7 hours to no sleep at all), but that's why I choose shifts during times my schedule is more forgiving. Some hotlines, including the one I volunteer for in my community, offer daytime shifts on weekends. Maybe you can look into that?
posted by gemutlichkeit at 5:57 AM on November 26, 2016

Is there any option for flex-time with your employer, eg. could you work noon or 1300 to evening the day after your volunteer shifts? You know your workplace better than anyone, but I've found that many are surprisingly supportive of employees who volunteer like this. If you think there's any chance they might agree, it might be worth asking, especially you're only looking at doing it once per month. If you can get the hotline to agree that it would always be the same day (e.g. every third Monday) that might make it easier for your boss to say yes.
posted by rpfields at 9:12 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

You may not get to do this and be well rested every day. But millions of parents of young children manage to go to work regardless of how little sleep they get (fairly frequently) so the problem does not seem to be insurmountable. It may be a question of how many nights/month as opposed to never. Only you know how much sleep you are willing/able to give up for this cause.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:52 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The crisis line where I volunteer in Portland runs 4-hour volunteer shifts throughout the day. Only paid employees work at night, and they are not allowed to sleep. So not every center does things the same way, and you might be able to find one that better suits your needs.

We are affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is a network of different centers. Each one will have its own volunteer positions and its own rules -- check out the list and map here. You seem to be in New York City; I see at least one in your area (the Long Island Crisis Center) whose volunteering page lists a schedule that's much more similar to ours here in Portland.

I do second that your work may be willing to accommodate you, whatever you end up doing. It's a very resonant cause that has touched a lot of people, and I've found that my employers have been willing to let me shift my hours a little.

Good luck, I'm so glad you're considering this!
posted by thesmallmachine at 5:34 PM on November 26, 2016

I work as a volunteer counselor on the Crisis Text Line and while most of the issues we see aren't what we call "Active Rescue", we do get a lot of people without any hope and/or resources. You are only obligated for 4 hours on there a week and I break it up 2 hours and 2 hours on different days.

Their training is EXCELLENT, and I cannot speak highly enough about the community of trained crisis counselors. Caring, smart and really compassionate. I am so happy to be there.

MeMail me if I can answer any questions for you.

BTW, the people in crisis text in but you are at a computer (laptop or whatever) so it's almost like Instant Messaging, The platform is excellent. (Seriously. It rocks and we'd love more volunteers.)
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:37 PM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The place I am just starting to volunteer (rape crisis advocate) you are on call 1x per month, overnight, so I'm trying to plan it when I have a morning/next day which is sort of forgiving.

I have a small child too, so basically I am just going to commit for a few months and then go from there. If it's too much, I'll dial back or figure out how else I can be of service.

What I've hear is you may just take 1 15 minute call or no call OR it could be a long overnight, there's no way to know, but I really want to do it, and I figure it's better to give it a go & be tired, then just not try at all. If it's too much, you can always stop or try another way to volunteer. I think just try it, if you can!
posted by Rocket26 at 5:57 PM on November 26, 2016

I've volunteered at a rape crisis center (BAWAR) and they did not require overnights, at least when I was there. I did do overnight SARTs but it was voluntary. I did those Sunday 12 am - 9 am. It also kept me from making poor life choices on a Saturday night, which was a nice bonus. At the beginning, I thought there was no way I would ever sleep on SART nights, but sure enough, I eventually did.

That said, the vicarious trauma did keep me up some nights anyway. Make sure you have a good support system. Someone you can call after a shift and vent or cry if need be is a huge plus.

Thank you for considering this hard work, and thank you to everyone one above who does/has done it. It's not what you think. Survivors are amazing. You will often get more strength than you feel like you gave. It's work worth doing.
posted by greermahoney at 11:51 PM on November 26, 2016

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