Serving as a reflection

Catherine Grizinski answers about 17 phone calls every day from people who may commit suicide.

It’s her job.

“We’re trained to help a person process and validate their situation and possibly give them tools to fix it on their own,” said Grizinski, associate director of the Help Hotline Crisis Center.

But Grizinski, a 39-year veteran in the field, can’t help but empathize with the callers.

“The calls often start shaky,” Grizinksi said. “The caller isn’t feeling too good, and they wish their life was over. They need to know that we care, and hopefully that will give them hope.”

In 2009, only eight counties posted a higher number of suicides than Mahoning County, according to the Ohio Department of Vital Statistics. Of the county’s 39 suicides, 35 were male. While the majority of suicides occurred in older age brackets, 10 people between the ages of 15 and 34 took their own lives.

Grizinksi said she and her co-workers chose an occupation in suicide help because they are concerned about and want to assist others.

Debbie Trevis, a hotline volunteer at Kids PhoneFriend of Mahoning County, said that most people like her volunteer because they have also been exposed to factors that may lead to suicide.

“One of my friends from school committed suicide, and I also dealt with mental illness in my family,” she said.

Grizinski added that some volunteers say they’ve been blessed in their lives and just want to give back.

Kids PhoneFriend answers calls in five different states: Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Trevis said the first cry-for-help call is always the most serious, but she tries not to take it personally.

“It is harder to intervene,” Trevis said.

Trevis and Grizinski follow instructions when they take calls. Yet, the calls sometimes go amiss, and even the best-laid plans may fall through.

When callers get upset and hang up the phone, Grizinski said it concerns her, but she doesn’t feel helpless. She said that when the call ends, all volunteers need to remember that they did the best they could.

Trevis added that she rarely overthinks the situation after the call has ended.

“We very seldom miss what we should have said to the caller,” she said.

Grizinski said that on rare occasions, family members call the hotline back to inform them of bad news.

“They call us back to tell us that their loved one has committed suicide. They don’t in any way blame us,” Grizinski said. “I do feel badly, but only they can make that decision ultimately.”

She is cautious to not absorb the grief associated with suicide.

“If you take grief away from them, then you become sick yourself,” she said. “I’ve learned to be a mirror. We don’t absorb it. We simply reflect it.”

Grizisnki uses this method as a coping strategy.

“We try not to let it destroy us,” she said. “We are forever changed by it, but it

makes us better volunteersand listeners.”