“You’re getting a hug whether you want it or not”
Let’s just say it isn’t shocking to learn the federal government has only one Veterans’ Crisis Line office. America has a long history of soldiers coming home to a lower levels of support than deserved, so the reality that every call—and the numbers are staggering with the statistical probability of suicide being one vet per hour—is routed to Canandaigua, NY sounds about par for the course. Luckily for those strong enough to seek assistance, the men and women working tirelessly around the clock are exactly who they need for help. Director Ellen Goosenberg Kent‘s documentary short Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 may spotlight the intricacies of the job itself as its motivating plot thrust, but the real success lies in it providing a venue to showcase those compassionate souls doing all they can to save lives.
It’s not an easy job answering phones for hours at a time, always with someone on the other end about to or in the middle of ending his/her life. The toil that takes is immeasurable because you only need one person to carry out the threat before the countless other survivors are rendered moot. It is most definitely a victory when these responders can smile and sigh with relief after the words “you take care now” travel over the phone. That satisfaction despite being shaken to the core from the highly emotional work completed is a miraculous thing. What Kent doesn’t show—either out of respect to the dead or because they didn’t lose anyone during filming—is the aftermath of a defeat. Frankly, she doesn’t need to since we can all imagine the utter devastation it brings.
What’s most fascinating in its office-set crusade are the logistics involved with each call. The responder is the point of contact, a trained mental health advisor able to coax out pertinent details of each caller’s identity and whereabouts while also working to calm them down. They instant message those facts to the emergency coordinator who then calls local police to direct them on how to proceed at the scene. On top of that are the bosses comforting their responders, telling them how great they’ve handled the tough cases as a shoulder to cry on or a friendly voice to sooth like they do for their veterans. Because whether a death is prevented or not, these counselors simply being there when no one else will makes them heroes of a war raging within the shadows here at home.
The short is currently available on HBOGo and HBO On Demand (OnDemand through March 9th).