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Westfield-Based Suicide Hotline Sees Spike in Calls Following Robin Williams’ Death

Jackie Lieberman

Thursday, August 14, 2014 • 2:00pm

WESTFIELD, NJ — CONTACT We Care, a New Jersey suicide prevention hotline based in Westfield, is experiencing a spike in calls following the highly publicized suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams, according Joanne Oppelt, the hotline’s executive director.

“Call volume goes up after a suicide makes the news. Not only do we get more calls, we get more calls relating to suicide from both people in crisis and people who are concerned about others,” said Oppelt. “Suicide can be contagious, especially if it is sensationalized. People who are already thinking of suicide may be triggered and their thoughts become more intense. Also, if there are a string of suicides, it may become an ‘acceptable’ way to cope with things.”

Oppelt urged anyone in need of someone to talk to call the hotline any time at 800-273-8255. An additional line, 908-232-2880, is available daily from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. You can also text with listeners at the hotline from 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday by texting "CWC" to 839863.

“CONTACT We Care is a caring and listening line. Our mission is suicide prevention, which covers the gamut of emotions from ‘I’m lonely’ to ‘I’m about to kill myself,’” Oppelt explained. “The number-one risk factor for suicide is social isolation; the number one protective factor is social connection. CONTACT We Care exists to provide social connection. The key is prevention. So, it is important enough to call anytime a person wants to make a connection with another human being, whatever the reason.”

Headquartered in Westfield, with a listening hub in Morristown, CONTACT We Care is Central and Northern New Jersey’s crisis listening line, receiving more than 17,000 calls per year. 

“We are looking for more volunteers,” said Oppelt. “Over 200 volunteers staff our lines. Volunteers undergo 36 hours of instruction in active listening and mental health issues and a two-day intensive training on suicide intervention. Then they go through an internship on the lines with other listeners. We charge a materials fee of $75 to undergo the training. And we ask for eight hours a month on the lines for a at least year.”

The next training begins Sept. 10. For more information, visit www.contactwecare.org and click on “training” or call Sue at 908-301-1899.

CONTACT We Care also provides community trainings in mental health first aid, suicide awareness and preventing teenage suicide. To find out more about trainings, call Sue at 908-301-1899.

To support the organization financially, go to www.contactwecare.org and click on “give."

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