Statement of purpose In California (CA), 48,000 people attempt or die by suicide each year. With a deeper understanding of the patterns/situations that drive people into crises, we can save many more lives. Ten CA crisis lines joined together in April 2013 to do just that (5 more joined in 2015). Our centres are no longer the proverbial blind men touching different parts of an elephant: by asking callers the same questions in the same way, they are (1) getting “a feel” for the most underserved populations/areas, and (2) pinpointing the nature/depth of crises more precisely.
Methods/Approach With Didi Hirsch MHS as the lead agency, the crisis centres 1) selected and operationalised a set of common metrics through consensus-building, 2) developed a training manual, 3) trained hundreds of counsellors, 4) set up a web-based data-collection system, and 5) analysed trends. The metrics were: Demographics; Reason for Call; Call Volume; Suicide Risk; Follow-Up; and Caller Satisfaction.
Results Populations: age (23% of callers were 55–64), gender (60% female), ethnicity (55% Caucasian), and presenting problem (mental health concerns and suicidal content were most common).
Caller Satisfaction: 87% of callers were Likely/Very Likely to call again, 84% said the call was Helpful/Very Helpful in reducing emotional distress, and 83% felt Connected/Very Connected to the counsellor.
Call Efficacy: Of callers who had the highest suicidal intent at the start of the call, 59% reported lower suicidal intent by its end.
Conclusions In ethically balancing data collection with the needs of callers in crisis, the Common Metrics project has:
Reduced silos between CA crisis lines and strengthened collaboration
Improved infrastructure for shared data collection
Derived a method for measuring CA effectiveness with crisis calls with standardised 1) risk assessment tool, a self-rating of suicidal intent at the call’s beginning/end; and 2) network-wide caller satisfaction survey.
Significance and contribution to the field Through this project, hundreds of crisis centre staff and volunteers were mobilised as they had never been before to work toward a common purpose. This project has helped to identify/define best practice in the field by engaging the State’s experts. We expect replication of this system in other states, based on preliminary interest.
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