On occasion, you may encounter, or receive a reference call or chat from, a patron who threatens suicide or indicates a threat, such as: “I am going to kill myself”; “My boyfriend punches me”; “There is a bomb in the locker”, etc. While these may be prank calls, it is important to treat such statements seriously until proven otherwise. Follow these steps whenever you think a patron may be in crisis:
Start a reference conversation. This should go a long way to establishing exactly what the patron needs. One or two clarifying questions will determine if the call is personal in nature or not. Sometimes what appears to be a crisis call is actually for a school assignment – a good reference interview will establish whether this is the case.
If the call is personal, ask open ended questions like “How would you like me to help you?” This should give you some idea of the patron's expectations and allow you to start sending information that may be helpful. For instance, if they say they just want to talk, you can respond with hotlines that specialize in this area (see below for suggestions). Ask professional questions, as opposed to personal ones.
Librarians are not counselors and we aren't trained to handle mental health questions, but we also don't want to disengage completely if someone is in trouble. As in all situations, the librarian should be friendly, supportive, and approachable. Good supportive statements to use include: ”I might have resources to help you”; “It makes me sad to hear that”; “I want to help you”; “Let's work together to figure something out”; “I'll do my best to get the information you need.”; “That must be so hard. How can I help?”; “I'm glad you connected with me today.”
Don't give advice, just resources. Always refer a patron in crisis to an appropriate hotline, staffed by mental health professionals or trained crisis volunteers. The librarian should not provide counseling. Examples of good referrals are IMAlive (https://www.imalive.org ), an online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis; 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), which is dedicated to suicide prevention, intervention and healing; and National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/Sexual Abuse: 1-800-799-SAFE, a hotline operating 24 hours/day, 7 days a week.