For Leslie Storm, the effects of the current financial crisis can be heard in her office almost every day — over the last two months, the suicide prevention line she helps run has seen a 55 percent increase in call volume.
The only mental health care option for many people in crisis, the four telephone counseling lines operated by Oregon Partnership offer an anonymous way to seek help. Storm, director of Oregon Partnership's crisis lines program, says the staff and volunteer therapists are often the only option for many people experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts and drug and alcohol crises.
"I had a man call me last week," she said. "He thought he'd be better off dead because he'd just lost his job."
Suicide is more common in men, and that caller expressed a common thought — that his life insurance was worth more to his family than himself. The economy is an increasingly common subject in the conversations at the center, comprising about 15 percent of all calls in the last month. Experts say it's a theme that lands especially hard on men because they are considered society's traditional breadwinners.
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"In September, we received 951 calls from men, compared to 594 in August," Storm said. "This is an unusual increase."
But that doesn't mean women aren't equally affected. While developing a safety plan for one mother, they had her agree to throw out all of her sleeping pills. But it left another problem – how would she get to sleep? Storm suggested drinking a glass of warm milk.
"But she only had two cups of milk left, and she had to feed the baby," she said.
Although the center takes calls anonymously, Storm says they are planning an upgrade that will help them track the type of person they are counseling. A new computer program will help phone counselors record a caller's race, age, and other risk factors. She said it would help them craft a more culturally sensitive counseling session for people in crisis.
From 1986 to the present day, there has been an increase of suicides by nearly 200 percent among young Black men. Storm isn't sure of the exact cause – be it racism, lack of job opportunities or societal pressures – but one thing that doesn't help is silence.
"My best friend is a Black man," she said, who once asked her why she did the work she did. "He told me 'we don't do that (commit suicide) in our community.'"
Storm was taken aback, but says that not talking about suicide doesn't make the problem go away — although there is sometimes an increase in the number of suicides directly following a highly publicized suicide.
Dr. Garfield de Bardelaben, a psychologist with the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, says the best thing African Americans can do is address the problem.
"We used to feel it wasn't a big issue," he said. "But we know it is."
It may be common knowledge, but it's not limited to those who directly chose to end their own lives. Suicide, he says, can also include suicide by police, or by self-abuse. When members of the community discuss this phenomenon, they're also much more likely to discuss the solutions for seeking help and the warning signs that someone could be thinking about killing themselves.
Crisis lines, says de Bardelaben, are incredibly helpful, although many people aren't aware of their existence or helpfulness. The societal stigma can be avoided when a person is calling an anonymous counselor. It can be done 24 hours a day and there is no charge for someone without the benefit of health insurance.