“Crisisline, may I help you? What is happening for you today?”
These words begin each of the approximately 450 calls that the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service Crisisline receives every month from people looking for support and from people seeking advice as they support others.
SPCS was established in 1969 by Rev. Jack Lewis, director of Cornell United Religious Work, after several people died by suicide the previous year. The SPCS Crisisline, based in Tompkins County and serving 10 additional New York counties, is part of the National Suicide Lifeline system.
After the Tompkins County Mental Health clinic closes for the day, the Crisisline takes calls from their clients through the night. All Crisisline workers are trained, supervised and supported by Micaela Corazón, the Crisisline director.
Corazón brings 40 years of public health work experience to her work as Crisisline director. She started volunteering in San Francisco in the 1980s, during the height of the HIV epidemic.
“I volunteered with an AIDS service agency to figure out a way to help my friends, who were in their 20s and 30s and were dying,” Corazón said in an interview with The Sun.
After moving to Ithaca in 2000 after 20 years in San Francisco, Corazón became the regional director for AIDS WORK of Tompkins County and the Southern Tier AIDS program. She started as a volunteer on the SPCS Crisisline in 2004, and joined the staff in 2006.
Corazón walked The Sun through a typical call. “We listen, and towards the end of the call, we help them come up with an after-call plan. If they are having thoughts of suicide, we come up with a safety plan with them. If they don’t have thoughts of suicide, we ask about what steps they are going to take after the call.”
Corazón has five paid staff and six volunteers. Some of the volunteers are college students, including Cornell students. These students, like all Crisisline workers, receive 47 hours of training in preparation to handle calls.
“Some of the best college student volunteers had EARS training at Cornell, because they already have the basic tools of non-judgmental, active, empathic listening,” Corazón said.
The Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service, or EARS, is Cornell’s free, anonymous peer counseling service. Volunteers go through up to 11 weeks of training in preparation to counsel fellow students.
As well as recruiting, training and mentoring volunteers, Corazón works with the social workers who manage the After Trauma programs, which focus on supporting communities after someone dies by suicide.
SPCS also collaborates with the county’s mobile crisis team to ease the process of hospitalization in emergency cases. SPCS also works with hospitals to support newly released patients and provide local schools mental health education.
As part of her work and lived experience, Corazón has seen many of the flaws in the mental healthcare system. She expressed a desire to see more cultural competency and diversity among mental healthcare workers.
“Mental healthcare is part of a cultural milieu. If you are going to offer mental healthcare to everyone, it is not one size fits all,” Corazón said.
Corazón also expressed frustration with the lack of integration of mental healthcare into general medical screening, limited insurance coverage for mental healthcare and other barriers to mental healthcare.
“People are dying in our country for not being able to pay for medicine or not being able to access medical and mental healthcare. That to me is abominable. It saddens me. I have been a mental healthcare and healthcare advocate all my life, and it really is like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill,” she said.
Despite the frustration, Corazón said “I live and breathe the Crisisline, and I feel honored to be able to do it. I have no regrets.”
Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. To access the National Crisis Text line, Text HELLO to 741741 any time. For additional resources, visit http://caringcommunity.cornell.edu/get-help/.