The Samaritans of Cape Cod mark 45 years of listening

SOUTH YARMOUTH – Suicide survivor Kevin Berthia, of California, will share his story as the Samaritans of Cape Cod and the Islands mark 45 years of community service in suicide prevention at an anniversary celebration and event “ Beacon of Hope” on Saturday.

Berthia became widely known following the publication of a photo taken on location the day in March 2005 when, aged 22, he nearly committed suicide, preparing to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

After more than 90 minutes of interacting with a California Highway Patrol officer while standing at the bridge’s exterior railing, Berthia was prevented from making the jump.

Stephanie Kelly, executive director of The Samaritans, described in an interview the crucial importance of extended listening in such a crisis situation, where the role of the potential rescuer is to spend all the time necessary to really hear what the person who is is considering suicide communicates. .

“Listening saved (Berthia’s) life,” Kelly said.

September 10 program at the Cape Cod Cultural Center in South Yarmouth coincides with World Suicide Day, organizers hope it will help raise awareness of the many conditions that drive people into crisis and raise awareness of a variety of programs that have grown around the Samaritan mission on Cape Cod. The non-profit volunteer group was first formed in the Upper Cape in 1977 to help those at risk of suicide and to offer care and connection to those in need of a listening ear.

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32 suicides in Cape Town and the islands so far this year

Kelly described the many ongoing crisis services offered by the Samaritans at a time when mental health needs have increased, in part because of the isolation fostered during COVID, but also because, she said , “a lot is happening” in our society now, with heightened tensions “in politics, health, social media, bullying” and more.

She reported that, nine months into 2022, Cape Cod and the Islands had 32 suicides, “the same number reported in 2021.” In 2020, for comparison, 21 suicide deaths were reported locally.

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Nationally, suicide claimed almost 46,000 lives in 2020, and that year was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States.

According to Kelly, despite the lingering stigma around talking about suicide, for those at risk as well as the families of survivors, “More and more people are starting to reach out. …Things are looking up.

Most callers need someone to listen to them

Kelly said the public perception was often that the role of the Samaritans was to respond to urgent calls from people in immediate danger of attempting suicide. Not so, she said. These calls represent less than 2% of those received at the centre. By far the largest number are from distressed or lonely people who need someone to listen to them. Many, especially in the older population, are often ‘talked about or around’ and feel they are not heard in their plight.

“Listening is an extremely powerful thing,” she added.

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Kelly said some callers may ask to be referred to an aid agency, and volunteers can initiate a three-way call with local mental health service providers for “any help (the callers) might need. right away”.

The wide range of callers highlights many other facets of Samaritan outreach in the community, such as their Caring Connection program, which provides weekly support to people recently released from an institution following a suicide attempt. , or Safe Place groups that provide peer-to-peer support to families of people who have died by suicide, allowing them to share their stories together in an understanding setting.

Second Chance Groups provide a safe, non-judgmental space for suicide survivors themselves to learn coping strategies and foster resilience in the wider community.

The Samaritans also work through seniors-related agencies to provide weekly outreach to seniors who need a way to connect with a nonjudgmental listener.

Call center staff increases to meet demand

Kelly hopes the Sept. 10 event will help “spread the word” about the changes taking place in the organization as Samaritans respond to increased mental health needs in the community, and raise awareness of the need for volunteers to participate in Samaritans’ programs.

The nonprofit is now part of a new initiative that allows volunteers to answer calls through a 988 suicide prevention lifeline, an addition to the existing Samaritans crisis line (800-893-9900 ). Calls to the 988 system route the caller directly to one of five different Massachusetts call centers, depending on the area code. This provides 24-hour call coverage for Cape Cod, Kelly said, and means volunteers know the area and can respond quickly with practical local suggestions for self-care.

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The on-call staff has expanded to meet current demands, now offering what Kelly called “robust coverage” with nearly 45 volunteers available to fill the schedule 24/7. A few years ago, she says, there was often only one person to take calls during a 2.5-hour shift. With newly added help from local college interns and some paid staff, there are three to four people answering during each shift, tripling the number of calls that can be taken.

Changes in working methods have also enabled better coverage of calls. In addition to working in a dedicated call center, volunteers can now also work remotely.

“There’s no more geography,” Kelly said. The fact that volunteers can work from home in an on-call capacity has “opened up the pool of people…including those with reduced mobility”, who can join the volunteer listener corps.

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Another programming innovation, Kelly said, will be the September launch of a new LOSS Team pilot program, in which Samaritan volunteers can accompany first responders to meet survivors of loss immediately after a death. These team members have experienced similar loss themselves and can provide the support and hope needed at a critical time.

If you are going to:

The Samaritans of Cape Cod and the Islands will mark the organization’s 45th anniversary with a Beacon of Hope celebration from 5-7 p.m. September 10 at the Cape Cod Cultural Center, 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth.

The event includes refreshments, a cash bar and live music. Tickets are $45 and are available at the door as well as on the Samaritans website,

About Bradley J. Bridges

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