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More calls to 988 National Suicide Hotline increases demand for volunteers

Call volume to 988 suicide hotline raises need for volunteers
Call volume to 988 suicide hotline raises need for volunteers 03:23
988 hotline volunteer
988 hotline volunteer CBS

NOVATO -- An important lifeline for those struggling with depression or thoughts of harming themselves was made easier to use last July when the National Suicide Hotline switched from a 12-digit number to three digits: 988.

Since that switch, call volume has gone up 45%. The calls are dispatched to local offices, which are now in need of more volunteers.

The 988 nationwide suicide and crisis lifeline relies on a network of agencies, including one non-profit providing mental health services in the Bay Area. 

JD Schramm doesn't need his journal to recount what happened nearly 20 years ago. 

"I can't wait to start teaching at NYU. What a blast that will be.  Blessed with so many friends.  But it was all a sham," Schramm, reading from his old diary.  

Schramm works with a client as a communications coach and often advises Fortune 500 CEOs. He has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. 

But on June 11, 2003, he nearly ended his life in New York City.  

"Somewhere in mid-air I must have lost consciousness," recalled Schramm.  

Struggling with depression and addiction, he jumped off the Manhattan Bridge. Schramm broke all his ribs, punctured his lung, and shattered an arm. 

Somehow, the then 38-year old survived what could easily have been a fatal fall.  

"I began calling for help and there were people on the ferry who could hear my screams and see me in the water," said Schramm. 

That was his first real call for help.

As part of the national 988 network, the North Bay nonprofit Buckelew Programs, handles thousands of crisis calls from the local area. All calls are confidential. 

After difficult and emotionally intense calls, volunteers and call-center staff debrief on how their counseling can improve, without identifying callers.  

"Calls specifically and the stories I related to, I find those calls to be the hardest," said Deborah Boncutter, who works at the Buckelew Programs call center. 

"Giving people that trust is something unfortunately they don't get often enough," said volunteer James Giffen. 

Many affiliated with the program know someone who has committed suicide and struggled to get help. Giffen is a volunteer who has a family member battling heroin addiction.

The call center needs more volunteers to help people like Schramm, who also works at Buckelew and serves on the nonprofit's board. He knows that the first call to 988 could be a pivotal point along someone's road to recovery. 

Almost two decades after his attempted suicide, the 58-year-old Schramm is raising two young kids and has been married 14 years. He says eliminating drugs and alcohol, leading a simpler life, and reaching out for help and support have been key. 

"I believed there was a life that was better for me than the one I was living and it was my journey to find that life," said Schramm.  

Buckelew Programs say they're getting about one-third more calls since the lifeline re-launched with the easy to remember number. 

The number of suicides increased by four percent last year. If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call or text 988 or initiate a chat with the 988 service through its website.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the service can learn more on the website as well.

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