Kansas suicide hotline callers often left on hold

LAWRENCE, Kan. - One phone number helps thousands of people every year when they're at their lowest points. But in Kansas, people calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are often left on hold.

All calls dialed with a Kansas area code are directed to the Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence.

"What you're hearing is people in a lot of pain," said center director Marcia Epstein.

The 2,000 calls every month weigh heavily on the small staff. It's even more painful when they are forced to make callers wait.

Lately, that's been happening more often because Headquarters has lost nearly one-third of its funding. The local United Way no longer provides $26,000, and the University of Kansas Student Senate pulled its yearly $36,000 contribution. It had been giving Headquarters money since 1972.

"We're at a place where we need to work extremely hard because we know it's important to keep the services available," Epstein said.

Student Senate outreach director Alek Joyce said the decision was made in part because Headquarters doesn't keep track of how many students actually use the service. That money is now funding similar services on campus.

Sophomore Ashley Farris started a suicide outreach group this fall. She wishes there was a way to keep Headquarters funded, even if it's only reaching a few students.

"In college you kind of lose your lifeline, especially if you're really far away from home, there's nowhere to go," Farris said.

Epstein said a recent study released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64 percent of college students with mental health problems end up withdrawing from school. She said that figure reinforces the need for Headquarters' services.

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