Memphis Crisis Center Awareness Week Sept. 20-26 Aims to Raise Funds, Community Profile and Volunteers for 24-Hour Confidential Hotline

For more than 40 years, the Memphis Crisis Center has provided much-needed counseling to those in distress through a 24/7, volunteer-staffed hotline.

But in the last few years, whether because of the economy or the troubled times, calls to the confidential lifeline (901-CRISIS7 or 901-274-7477) have gone up dramatically, from 14,103 in 2011 to 17,629 in 2012. Suicide calls more than doubled last year, from 559 in 2011 to 1,264, and were at more than 600 for the first half of 2013.

More calls mean more volunteers are needed to answer them, more money is needed to train those volunteers and more effort is necessary to reach people in crisis.

Chancellor Steve Schwab speaking at the Memphis Crisis Center kick off

The first-ever Memphis Crisis Center Awareness Week, Sept. 20-26, is an effort to meet those needs.

A kick-off ceremony will be held on Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. in the pavilion at Health Sciences Park, 799 Madison, with community leaders, a proclamation, testimonials from volunteers and information about the Memphis Crisis Center.

Throughout the week, the Memphis Crisis Center will be using social media to reach out to the community and offer help in dealing with the stresses of mental illness, bullying, job loss, domestic violence, aging and illness. Join the conversation on Facebook at facebook.com/memphiscrisiscenter; offer a favorite quote or memorialize a loved one lost to suicide on Twitter at #901Crisis7; or see educational videos on YouTube.

What is now the Memphis Crisis Center was founded in 1970 by Richard Farmer, MD, a psychiatrist and chief of psychiatry at the old John Gaston Hospital, and Dr. Allen Battle, professor of psychiatry and chief of the Division of Clinical Psychology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC). Originally called the Suicide Prevention Service, it soon became the Suicide and Crisis Intervention Service, charged with handling a wider range of mental health, emotional and crisis issues.

The hotline first operated out of people’s homes, and later was housed in several locations throughout the city. Today, UTHSC partners with the Memphis Crisis Center, providing its call center, training facility and administrative offices on the UTHSC campus.

Those interested in volunteering can contact volunteers@crisis7.org, go to memphiscrisiscenter.org or call the volunteer line at 901-649-8572. Volunteers are trained to use methods with long- and short-term goals, including mobilizing community resources for help and empowering the caller to take practical steps to get help.

Executive Director Mike LaBonte said 93 percent of suicide interventions end with a safety plan engaged or emergency help dispatched. The Memphis Crisis Center made about 4,000 referrals in 2011 to community mental health centers, drug rehabilitation programs, 12-step programs, shelters and social services. That number went up to 9,000 in 2012.

Along with the main crisis hotline, the office administers the Call4Kids Hotline and the Ryan White HIV Care Line. It partners with CrimeStoppers on the SeniorBSafe Line, and serves as the local affiliate of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). It is also a substation for the National Veterans Hotline and provides the after-hours answering service for the Rape Crisis Center and the Family Safety Center.

To offer financial support, go to memphiscrisiscenter.org or send a donation to Memphis Crisis Center, P.O. Box 40068, Memphis, Tenn., 38174.

For more information: memphiscrisiscenter.org or call 901-649-8572.