NJ suicide calls spike following deaths of Bourdain, Spade
PISCATAWAY — Following the high-profile deaths of designer Kate Spade and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, the state's suicide prevention hotline has experienced a significant uptick in calls from individuals needing support.
According to William Zimmerman, clinician supervisor for the New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline, call volume has increased by more than 100 percent since Friday.
The operation — located at Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare — has called in counselors on their days off, and called on per-diem staff to keep up with the call flow.
"We want the person who is in crisis on the other end of the phone to have someone answer when they reach out for help," Zimmerman said.
During a one-hour period Sunday night, the Hopeline received 30 calls.
An average call would last about 10 minutes. Counselors receive calls not only from individuals in crisis, but also those who know someone who may harm themselves, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the team of counselors is also prepared to handle "suicides in progress" — a caller who's already downed a number of pills or ingested a toxin, for example.
"If they say no thank you, we take matters into our own hands and we assist in what's called active rescue," he said. "If there's imminent danger, risk of serious injury or death, then we have to save a life."
The hotline's received more than 18,000 calls so far in 2018, in addition to 35,614 incoming calls in 2017.
For the first year since 2011, New Jersey's suicide rate decreased in 2016 from the year prior — down 13 percent, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
"We had the second lowest suicide rate in the nation," said state Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal, who toured the call center Tuesday afternoon with Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson.
"But that certainly does not mean we can declare victory," he added. "Of concern is a 23 percent increase in the number of veterans and the number of members of the military who died by suicide in New Jersey between 2010 and 2014," Elnahal added.
The center at UBHC also houses peer-based hotlines for veterans, cops, and mothers, among other services.
Nationwide in 2016, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suicide rate jumped by 25 percent over the last two decades.
"New Jersey's suicide rates are slightly less than what some people are seeing in other states, but there's limited comfort in that for families who've lost loved ones to this crisis," said Johnson.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.