By Brittany Purdy
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Suicide Prevention in the Deaf Community
Every Tuesday afternoon, I walk into the Suicide Prevention Crisis Line call
room prepared to deal with the worst of situations. This one particular
Tuesday, I noticed in the stack of procedure binders in the corner that
there was a TDD manual. A TDD (also commonly referred to as a TTY) is
a device that sends a typed message over phone lines. If the recipient
does not have one of these devices, the caller can call relay operator who
will read the message aloud to the person being called (pcmag.com). I
remembered from training that if we were to deal with a Deaf caller, we were
to look in this old, outdated binder. After talking to my supervisor about
the manual and his own experiences with deaf callers, he suggested that
instead of using the TDD machine, the caller should use a video relay
service. After doing research on video relay services, I believe this is the
best option for suicide prevention counselors when dealing with Deaf
I asked a Suicide Prevention Crisis Line counselor, Liseanne Wick, if she
had ever spoke with a Deaf caller who used a TDD machine and she said in her
seven or eight years at the Crisis Line, she had never had a Deaf caller
(Wick, 2009). My supervisor at the hotline, Jonathan Royer, mentioned
he has only experienced one, possibly two Deaf callers in his fifteen years
of answering phone calls. I immediately asked him what the call was like.
“The TDD machine is old school. It’s slow and all the emotions are sucked
out, almost like an e-mail exchange.”
At the Suicide Prevention Crisis Line, it is crucial that we are able to
hear the caller’s emotions so that we can better understand what they are
going through and are more capable of helping them resolve some of their
issues. If we are unable to hear their emotions, we are severely hindered in
the call. Jonathan mentioned he had a conference call recently in his career
where not until the end did he know he was actually communicating with a
Deaf person through a video relay service because the interpreter was so
incredible at expressing emotions (Royer, 2009). A video relay service (or
VRS) is used when a Deaf or hard of hearing person uses a webcam to see a
sign language interpreter who can also see the signer and then translates to
the person on the other end of the telephone (CTAP, 2009). After speaking
with Jonathan, it is clear to me the TDD manual should be thrown out and
more video relay services should be used. If this happens, we can possibly
prevent more suicides in the Deaf community through outreach since it
appears many are unaware or choose not to call the hotline.
The Deaf community is at risk for suicide for several different reasons.
According to researchers in the United Kingdom, it’s believed a Deaf person
has less social support, greater feelings of hopelessness, and a higher rate
of depression which can all lead to suicide. Take, for example, a Deaf child
born into a family who can hear; they have to overcome great obstacles. It
should also be noted that there are about five to seven suicides in the UK
every year which means that there are many more people (about 150-400) who
attempted suicide (SignHealth, 2007). Through outreach and better use of
technology, we can prevent this from happening.
As video relay services become more popular, perhaps more people in the Deaf
community will be willing to call Suicide Prevention if they are feeling
suicidal or maybe even just a little depressed. Through a lot of outreach
and greater support for deaf people, we can make a huge impact for suicide
How to Make a Relay Call. California Telephone Access Program – Equipment (CTAP).
PCMAG.COM. Definition of: TDD/TTY. Retreived 24, March 2009.
Royer, Jonathan. Supervisor at Suicide Prevention Crisis Line. Interviewed
on 24, March 2009.
SignHealth. (2007). Deaf People and Suicide. Retrieved 24, March 2009.
Wick, Liseanne. Counselor at Suicide Preventions Crisis Line. Interviewed on
24, March 2009.
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