Suicide Hotline Shutdown

I started investigating this story just days ago and I talked to Kristin Brooks Hope Center president and CEO Reese Butler this morning, the man taking on "The Feds", who I see as the villains in this story. The center is named after his wife, who committed suicide. He's determined not to let the suicide hotline be shut down. He needs our help, because even though donations and signatures have begun to come in, according to their website, the suicide hotline shutdown is still scheduled for tonight.

If you've ever known anyone in the throws of deep depression, especially someone who is suicidal, you know that reaching out for help is not easy. Depression brings with it a lot of shame, especially when you're in the throws of the deepest, blackest heart of the illness. Just ask Mike Wallace if you don't think depression is real. It is and affects people of every age bracket and socioeconomic level, but those often most in need are teens. I'm no expert on this subject, though I do investigative work, but there seems to be something rotten at SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, aka The Feds, at least for this post, especially where the Kristin Brooks Hope Center is concerned.

This is a very detailed story that is hard to unwind, especially if you don't know anything about NGOs. But it revolves around SAMSHA using its governmental powers to subvert the autonomy of a private organization, the Kristin Brooks Hope Center. KBHC was doing good work to try and reach out and help emotionally disturbed teens and adults, many of whom were suicidal.

According to Butler's suit, the Suicide Hotline takes in over 1,000 calls per day, approximately 60% of which are crisis calls. Butler's current provider is now threatening to shut down the hotline as of midnight tonight. I received this press release this morning.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 1-800-SUICIDE, the nation's best known, private and confidential suicide prevention hotline network, will be shut off at midnight tonight unless action is taken. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), a division of HHS, has decided to end all funding for KBHC while continuing to owe them $266,000 from over 2 years ago. Instead of sending the funds that were already allocated, SAMHSA has gone on to create their own competing crisis hotline -- which gives them access to callers' private information through phone records. 1-800-SUICIDE does not disclose its phone records to the federal government. SAVE HOPE

Also see: Shut off notice (from current provider that is no longer AT&T)

Here's part of an email to Butler from Gemi Gural at AT&T, which shows SAMSHA's eagerness to get involved with Butler's established hotline. I have omitted Gural's email address, because Butler has no beef with AT&T. It's his current provider, whom Butler will not name because he's trying to work this mess out, and The Feds that are causing the problem.

From: Gural, Gemi, RTSLS
Sent: Fri 5/20/2005 6:48 PM
To: Reese Butler
Subject: RE: hope things are fine

... Goods news about your organization as well. It's taken me a little time to weed through the messages I've kept for your organization. I was trying to piece the story back together.

In December 2004 I received a call from Brenda Brunn, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who supported keeping the 800-SUICIDE line operational. She asked me to call her in the event the number would ever be disconnected. She said her department would step in and make necessary funding arrangements to ensure the number stay live for public good. ....

Why is Brunn calling AT&T to find out about the hotline? Why is she asking about the possibility of it being disconnected?

Evidently, SAMSHA wanted to acquire the suicide hotline without paying a nickel for the reputation they'd built up, the respect they'd garnered over years of work, as well as the incredible infrastructure that seems to be in place. Now they've evidently launched a competing suicide hotline instead of doing what's right and continuing the funding of Butler's suicide prevention hotline.

Isn't that just like The Feds? A private coporation, an NGO no less, builds up this incredible company, then The Feds decide to swoop in and gobble it up, hoping to then take credit for what someone else had put together. Or maybe I'm just too cynical.

Reese Butler needs your help to keep the suicide hotline alive. More information is here and here. Help if you can.

- Taylor Marsh