Some days at work are harder than others for Delisa Noebel, but being there for someone in crisis is rewarding — and lifesaving.
Noebel is a substance abuse disorder specialist with the crisis hotline through Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
But once before she was an addict and attempted suicide several times. She knows it can be scary to call someone for help. She knows because she's had to seek help. And she knows because she speaks to people in crisis on an almost daily basis.
"It can be scary, stressful. You can be taken aback, but you were there in that moment with a person and that's all that matters," Noebel said. "Once we find out what's going on, we apply the skills we know to help them. It's very rewarding."
To connect youth in crisis with immediate help, a new law that went into effect in July means students in seventh through 12th grades in California now have lifesaving phone numbers in the palm of their hands.
Public, private and charter schools must print the numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on student IDs. Crisis Text Hotline, the campus police or security/local nonemergency and local suicide prevention hotline numbers may also be printed.
At the beginning of this school year, most local students received IDs with the hotline numbers printed on the back, while others will be distributed after upcoming picture days.
‘IT’LL OPEN A CONVERSATION’
So far, the reaction has been great from the community, according to Brian Mendiburu, the Kern High School District's director of student behavior and supports.
"It’s the fifth or sixth day of school, and it’s been very positive," he said on Thursday. "They’re just glad that information is being provided when they have that need."
Parents who have children in the grades impacted by this law say this will allow for new conversations to take place.
"We don’t have the ID yet, but when we get it, it’ll open a conversation, and I'll tell him if he ever needs something, and if he doesn’t want to come to me, he has something to help him," said Jessica Lessaos, whose son transferred to Frontier High School this year.
Some also believe along with what is printed on their IDs, there needs to be more available to students in schools.
"The numbers provided are a great start to a positive change, but I also think the kids should have a safe place to physically go," said Anna Marion Baker, whose daughter graduated from Ridgeview High School in June. "Teachers are crowded in their classrooms, parents are too occupied to listen. These kids resort in a matter that can’t be taken back."
OTHER SCHOOL RESOURCES
Mendiburu said all schools in KHSD are trying to increase access to mental health resources.
Every school has a psychologist, social worker, guidance counselor and mental health clinician on site to speak with students. These individuals can also provide referrals if they believe students need additional help.
"KHSD and all area partners have been intentional about being mindful of the whole students and their needs," he said.
Michelle Perez's daughter, a sophomore at Liberty High School, struggled following the death of her great-grandfather. Though she did not talk to any faculty members about her struggles, her mother let her know "she could talk to any person on the school faculty that she was comfortable with."
"I know from experience talking to someone else other than family is so helpful. It is a good thing to have someone just listen to you and be that sounding board you need to help you sort out your feelings and get you on the right track to good mental health," Perez said.
The district also holds prevention assemblies yearly, and school social workers provide suicide prevention presentations.
For younger children, mental support is available at the Bakersfield City School District's four wellness centers. Students also participate in a Community Circle every morning, where they share how they're feeling that day, and they will do mindfulness exercises, said district spokeswoman Irma Cervantes.
WHAT TO EXPECT WITH HOTLINES
It might be scary to reach out to a hotline and talk about suicide with an anonymous person, but Ellen Eggert, program support supervisor for the crisis hotline at Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, explained recovery specialists are ready to listen 24 hours a day.
"Connectedness is a real thing. Talk to a student and ask who would they talk to if they were having some crisis. They'll say, 'I have 700 friends on Instagram.' Yeah, but who would you talk to?" she said. "They’re not connecting on a face-to-face basis, and it’s very important for youth, old people, everybody."
The highest suicide rate in Kern County is among males ages 18 to 29, she said. More suicides happen during the spring and summer, not the holidays like many people think.
As of Thursday, the crisis hotline had received 2,466 calls in August and 28,575 calls in 2019.
When an individual calls the crisis hotline, Eggert explained, they will be asked if they are in crisis and if they are suicidal. From that point on, recovery specialists will talk about what that individual is feeling and what help is available. They will not demand immediately who is calling or inform law enforcement, but "if they’re in immediate risk, of course we’re going to do what it takes to save their life."
Other than the hotline, individuals can seek psychiatric evaluation at the Mary K. Shell Mental Health Center and other services. Eggert and her colleagues also do outreach at high schools.
The fifth annual Stomp Out Suicide Walk, put on by Save a Life Today, is also taking place Sept. 7 at Beach Park. Sign-up begins at 7:30 a.m., with the walk at 9 a.m.
"We have this feeling it won’t happen to us, but it doesn’t discriminate and any of us can get to this point," Eggert said. "Kids are willing to talk about it which is a beautiful thing."