The Suicide Crisis Line: An Education in Listening | Dylan Gunaratne | TEDxCalStateLA
The Suicide Crisis Line: An Education in Listening | Dylan Gunaratne | TEDxCalStateLA

Transcriber: Naoko Fujii
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ (Audio) Dylan Gunaratne:
Didi Hirsch Crisis Line. (Audio) Andrea: Hi… (Audio) DG: Hey, my name is Dylan.
What’s your name? (Audio) A: Andrea. (Audio) DG: Hi Andrea. (Audio) Andrea, are you thinking
about suicide right now? (Audio) A: Yeah. DG: What you just heard is an example of what it feels like to actually pick up
the phone as a crisis line counselor. So, my name is Dylan, and I’m a suicide crisis line
counselor, volunteer, for a crisis line that’s part of the National
Suicide Prevention Network. And I’m here to basically share
with you some of my experiences in order to actually just
inspire you and motivate you to begin to consider the importance
of listening in your own life. So let’s actually break down
exactly what that first step is like, OK? So I pick up the phone,
and I’m talking directly to people who want
to kill themselves, right? People who have suicidal ideation. People who have attempted
suicide even that day or numerous times in their lifetime. People who may have a desire for suicide, but not necessary a plan
or access to those means, which we actually defined
as intent and capability. Or third party callers, people who are actually calling
about their loved ones or their friends. People who are concerned after seeing
an Instagram photo, for instance, that got them really alarmed. So, it’s also not uncommon to actually
get a group of 13-year-old prank callers. No matter who the first caller is, it’s terrifying to pick up the phone. And I didn’t want to say
the wrong things, right? I really wanted to make sure
I was saying the “right things.” And a lot of times,
I didn’t really know what to say. But eventually, I learned
to just be open-hearted, and willing to just adopt
an entirely new skill set. Because listening really isn’t easy. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s actually
really difficult to listen. And it wasn’t until I actually started
volunteering on a crisis line that I realized how challenging it was
for me to listen in my own everyday life. So, just like all of you,
here’re some of the things that I do, even to this day. Sometimes I’ll ask
the same question twice, literally minutes after asking them it because it just totally blank on me
what they were exactly saying. Or sometimes I’ll ask someone
to tell me their name, and I’ll almost immediately forget it. Because I’m thinking
about attribute of that person that’s standing out to me in some way. Or someone will tell me,
“Hey Dylan, what’s new?” and I’ll almost immediately respond,
“Good, how are you?” without really thinking
what they are asking. So, like all of you, these little things, I end up doing these things a lot,
and I still do these to this day. So, it’s clear that listening
is really a problem for a lot of us. Let’s just throw in the meditative role
of technology into the mix, OK? The inundation of information through your social media channels
and your platforms, multiple images and information
being thrown at you everyday, plus using multiple tabs and windows
when you are working. You know, but the barriers to listening. There are not only external barriers. There are internal barriers, too. So take, for example, your disposition to want to finish
the other person’s sentence. Or when thinking of something to say next, thinking of something to say next
when someone is trying to talk to you. Or even actually trying make up solutions to what you deem as their problems
while they’re talking to you. All of these, we’ve done
in some sorts of way, right? And all of these facets actually
obstruct our ability to listen, making listening really
a super arduous task in today’s age. So, as a president founder
of Cal State LA chapter of NAMI, which stands for the National
Alliance on Mental Illness, I’m actually concerned about the degree to which we don’t really listen
to our own mental health needs. Consider how two-thirds of students who are struggling
with mental health issues don’t actually go and seek treatment, according to a 2015 survey from
the American College Health Association. Now, I really wanted to found this chapter to initiate a real de-stigmatization
of the discussion of mental health issues, the issues that I was hearing
from all the callers on the lines, issues like social anxiety, depression,
social phobia, psychosis. The chapter basically represents the role that education and social supports
can play in really just initiating a more honest conversation
about mental health on a college campus. So, at this point, I think we can all
kind of intellectually, at least, understand the importance
of listening, right? You can think about it and be like, “Listening is probably important, I don’t do it as much
as I probably should, or at least I’m not doing it in the ‘right way’
that I probably should.” But it wasn’t until listening
was actually a matter of life or death that I began to realize just how I was making
these exact same mistakes. So, I struggle, to this day,
to listen to callers while also providing with them resources and helping them find resources
that could really help them. So, this story begins with a caller;
we’ll call him Mark. And Mark was a teen caller, and he was telling me
how he actually wanted to kill himself because his father had physically
attacked him the night before. And it was really difficult
listening to Mark’s story and heartbreaking at times. But I pushed forward
with a demographic question without really telling him
to tell me more about his story. So I asked Mark what gender
he identified as. Actually before he even began to speak,
I started writing down “male.” And he replied with “transgender.” I wasn’t really listening. (Chuckles) I wasn’t really listening
at all, actually. I realized in that moment that I was basically forming opinions,
I was coming to conclusions, I was not staying present with Mark. Even with your best intentions
of being empathetic, it doesn’t really mean
you’re actually listening to someone. This is why I admire
counselors on our shift. On a typical four-hour shift, they can talk to seven,
eight, nine, ten callers. And they can give each caller
their fullest attention. [Counselors] who have spent years
on the lines, even decades on the lines, tell me that their listening skills
are actually always improving. And the truth is, that your listening skills, like mine, can continuously be developed
and honed in on and grow. My time as a crisis line counselor has actually allowed me to embody
a whole different approach to listening. So, in their pioneering book
“Are You Listening?” which was published
in 1957 by McGraw-Hill, Dr. Ralph Nichols and communication expert
Leonard Stevens tell us that the average Americans’ rate
of speech is 125 words per minute. So although a lot of researchers actually debate how a brain
is really functioning while we think – stay with me here – most of researchers actually agree that our brain’s primary mode of thought
is actually through language and functions at a much, much faster rate
than that of the rate of speech. So, what that means for all of us, right? This basically means that when we find
ourselves listening to someone, we’re actually filling in the gaps
with our own thinking. So I want to end this talk with an example
that Nichols and Stevens provide us with, that I think we can relate
to all on some level. So, let’s think back to having
that meeting with our boss, where we really found
ourselves “listening.” So our boss is trying to tell us
of a new program or a new initiative that they really want to implement, and they really want our help with it. So, we listen. We sit there, and we listen. But eventually, because of the slower rate of speech,
relative to our brain’s capabilities, we actually begin to subconsciously
sidetrack, mentally. And we start to think of things
like your more recent breakup, your friends, your – anything really, just how you were a rockstar
at work the other day, reminding yourself to bring up how you almost prevented
a company-wide catastrophe because this is the meeting
to bring it up. Whatever really is,
we can do this for a while. We can sidetrack mentally, and then
come back again to the meeting. Then sidetrack mentally, and then
come back to the meeting again. But eventually, we actually end up daydreaming
a little bit longer than we anticipated. And as Nichols and Stevens put it, by the end of the meeting,
we have literally almost missed half of what our boss has tried
to illustrate to us on some level. I’m a crisis line counselor. I spend four hours on a typical shift, talking to people
who want to kill themselves. I am a student, and forever will be. I founded a chapter of NAMI on campus. But one thing I’m not
is a better listener because of any of these things, really. Because listening is actually a choice
that we all have to make, on a minute-to-minute,
second-to-second basis, all the time. And it’s a choice that we make to actually
more deeply connect with ourselves while also bridging that understanding
between one another. But most importantly, true listening can actually
save someone’s life. Thank you so much. (Applause)

27 thoughts on “The Suicide Crisis Line: An Education in Listening | Dylan Gunaratne | TEDxCalStateLA”

  1. Rosalyn Kahn says:

    It is a direct pleasure and honor to see one of my former students from SMC on the TEDx stage. i alsways said, we will never know whose life we might change with the words they say. One of my favorite first day message is have you ever heard of a sTEDx talks? Well ladies and gentleman, I have been on that stage over three times. I said, If I have done in there is no resason why you can't be on that stage as well .Congratualatons Dylan on this and all you have done. I know the tuture is quite bright for you!

  2. Nalaka Nanayakkara says:

    Excellent job…

  3. Test Subject Mafia says:

    I really would love to help people in this way, and learn to listen. It's a constant struggle in conversation because I at times, can't hear a word is said no matter how clear, or I simply forget completely. but, I know I couldn't handle that. being as I'm just a kid. I was diagnosed with ADD, depression, anxiety, and OCD. I couldn't handle that job, not with two suicide attempts on my recent history and no hope still.

  4. Jh h says:

    this is very sad, but glaf you too can help other learn not to be so self interested.
    you cant listen cause you care not for what others are saying.
    that really hurts

  5. K Bilisoly says:

    Bless you Dylan

  6. Barry Herring says:

    excellent job.

  7. Natasha Gunaratne says:

    excellent. I am proud of you Dylan.

  8. Vintage darling says:

    We are so much stronger than our pain!!!

  9. Natasha Gunaratne says:

    Congratulation Dylan: You achieved over 10,000 mark now.

  10. Lolly4twDasOrginal says:

    not a fan of the title, or in other words, not what i expected
    but thanks for telling the world about this topic and thanks for helping all the people

  11. Ara George says:

    Its frustarting a person talking about listening still says he when mark identifies as trans

  12. Melissa Zwieg says:

    Thank you😌

  13. Jon Alonzo says:

    Help me

  14. D J says:

    Too bad our crisis line is staffed by inadequately trainee people that don’t seem to care very much.

  15. OFFICIAL Heather Combs; †eardrღps †hat †angღ says:

    THANK YOU for posting! As a four-time familial suicide survivor (husband at 19, mother at 48, 2nd husband 28, & cousin age 21. Father died at 54, in my arms, due to alcoholism), I understand the great pain and stigma associated with the loss of a loved one by suicide. I didn't just "Survive," I found a way to "Thrive."' Need a friend? [email protected] Teardrops That Tango.

    Friendz; You are strong. You are beautiful. When it feels like the rest of the world is unreachable, help is out there. When the rest of the world feels like too much to handle, there is always someone or something that can help you take control of your thoughts, your actions, and your mental health. What you need to remember in times like these, is that you are never alone.

  16. Rin says:

    I don’t know why but I feel like I’m selfish if I call a help line.

  17. John Agresti says:

    This guy does not inspire me at all.

  18. chocolataecloud says:

    I had such a bad experience when I called one of them
    I was telling the lady about one of my fake friends that acts like my life is a reality show and always tells me to not cry when I try to open up to her and she goes "ugh I don't belive it. You must be exaggerating"

    It took me so much courage to call because I already felt I couldn't trust anyone but at least those hotlines could help me maybe right? Now I feel like it really doesn't matter who I open up to. No one really cares in the end

  19. Isabelle Davis says:

    I don't want to call a helpline because of my social anxiety and i hate talking to new people irl…

  20. Roberto Insingo says:

    some people cannot be helped

  21. Jeff B says:

    Never tell them you have a plan or they will throw you in a psych ward

  22. Kat Starr says:

    I called a prevention line a year ago. I was hung up on and proceeded to my fate. Luckily my cousin found me and called 911. I called a different service tonight and I wish I could remember their name because this line didn’t hang up… they stayed with me and found me a counselor. They saved me this evening and I have hope for what tomorrow brings. Thank you help line💖

  23. anxious says:

    I dont think people like calling cuz your parents know then u get thrown in a mental hospital so

  24. John Kim says:

    Listening has become set aside within our culture. The more we listen, we realize how easy it is and how hard it truly is at the same time!

  25. Sam K says:

    Too bad every hotline is a scam and they will bend over backwards to avoid helping anyone.

  26. Tom Larson says:

    That was great

  27. David C says:

    Crisis lines are just a listening service and there is no evidence they save lives. Maybe talking about your problems makes them more ingrained. The phone phone people will threaten you with the ambulance and police which will be humiliating and may make you seek isolation and suicide……….they can be good for volunteers though and help them feel they are doing some good……… but saving lives?? I think not

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