Woman Calls Suicide Hotline To Help A Friend, Gets Told To "Google It"

When a caller to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline attempted to get help for a troubled friend in another time zone, the organization routed the call to a local hotline which denied assistance. So, she turned to Twitter for help, instead.

A caller to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) was told to just "Google it" when she contacted the organization for help with a friend in another city. Melody Kramer, a digital strategist at NPR called the organization and was told multiple times to Google information instead because her friend did not live near the crisis center she was routed to.

Upon receiving a worrying email from a friend in another time zone, Kramer called the Lifeline's 800 number. The 800 number auto-connected her to a local hotline in Virginia, where the person answering phones refused to help because it involved a depressed person outside the Virginia-Washington region.

On her blog, Kramer writes: "I explained that there was only one National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and that it patched me through locally — and that I did not know whether a number would be listed for a local office near my friend. 'Google it,' the woman replied."

Eventually, Kramer turned to Twitter. "It was more useful — and more immediate — than the hotline."

In an email, Kramer told Fast Company, "I actually had Googled beforehand. The reason I called a hotline—and I think anyone calls a hotline—is that they want to talk to a real-life human being. I really wanted someone's professional assessment of what to do, based on what had been shared online and through conversations." Also, I suspect many people call suicide hotlines about a friend when they're really talking about themselves. And I suspect some who call hotlines do so because they don't have access to Google—or don't want someone seeing that they Googled certain terms."

Kramer originally called the Lifeline at approximately 12:30 a.m. Eastern the morning of September 13; the Lifeline reached out to her the next day to say that they contacted the coordinator of the crisis center her call was routed to and that they were following up. Fast Company also confirmed with NSPL representative Jeremy Willinger that the organization was looking into the incident; we will be speaking with them today as well.

Update: A representative from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reached out to Kramer and apologized for the incident, promising to look into it. Kramer says she feels reassured by the conversation and believes the ordeal was a mistake.

Update 2: Dr. John Draper, project director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, gave the following statement to Fast Company: "The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and its network of more than 160 centers are committed to providing quality service for the more than 1 million callers who will contact us this year, and research has shown that callers to the Lifeline are likely to feel less distressed and suicidal after their call. While no business can promise perfection, we certainly strive for it, and take every complaint seriously as an opportunity to continue to serve callers more effectively. We have followed up with Melody Kramer and the center responding to this call, and we want to make sure that her friend is safe and that future callers receive the care they need."

[Image: Flickr user Guilherme Jófili]

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4 Comments

  • Guest

    Yes, apparently they were so quick with this story that they were even able to get the scoop before things happen:
    "Kramer
    originally called the Lifeline at approximately 12:30 a.m. Eastern the morning
    of September 13; the Lifeline reached out to her the next day ... "

  • Anne

    "Kramer says she feels reassured by the conversation and believes the ordeal was a mistake." But at last Fast Company got a quick story out of it. 

  • spandrelmatic

    If this story is accurate (and there is no indication otherwise), the response from the personnel at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is disgraceful and could easily have cost someone's life. The public needs to know about such things, as does management at NSPH. I, for one, am glad that someone at Fast Company considered this important enough to cover, which many publications would not. Would you have preferred that they sweep it under the rug? To me, at least, your snark seems pointless and completely misdirected. Please feel free to explain why that is not the case.