It’s often a personal story that draws someone into the world of mental health care.

“I lost a friend to suicide when I was younger,” said Rebecca Zeitlin, who started at Didi Hirsch as a volunteer in 2007 and is now the crisis line director. “Since the launch of 988, we have a new volume, which is now 26% higher than what it was pre-988 launch.”

Zeitlin’s responsible for the more than 500 staff and volunteers who work at all hours of the day and night responding to calls, chats and texts.

“We give the space for someone to really talk about the pain that they’re experiencing,” she said. “We validate their feelings. We give them time to really sit in their sadness, in their darkness.”

Didi Hirsch also provides follow-up support to high-risk callers and prevention training for first responders. Data shows more than 93% of contacts to 988 are successfully deescalated by Didi Hirsch counselors.

“Less than 5% result in some active intervention and even less than 1% result in involuntary intervention, where we are feeling the need that someone is in imminent risk, imminent danger of harming themselves or others,” Zeitlin said.

“Suicide is preventable if we talk about it,” said Karla Zenteno, the bilingual program coordinator.

Zenteno answers some of the calls and says all of the volunteers and staff counselors go through an extensive six weeks of training.

“It’s about 100 hours of trainings,” she said. “We do a lot of role plays. We do learn about all different topics, [including] mental health, LGBTQ community, teens, adults.”

Calls last an average of 20-30 minutes, with high-risk calls requiring more time. Zenteno says there is still a mental health stigma, especially amongst Spanish speakers, who make up at least 1,200 calls a month.

Zenteno says she wants callers to know the counselors are not robots, and that she truly has compassion for the callers.

“I do really care about people and what they’re going through,and I do feel that when people talk about their emotions and we talk about crisis, it helps,” she said.

“We want people to know that they are not a burden,” Zeitlin said. “Their loved ones do care, but if they feel that they don’t have anywhere to reach out to, you can call 988.”

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