Editor’s note: The New Day He briefly had access to the response given by the mental health professionals of the PAS Line of Assmca, in a process that is kept strictly confidential due to the nature of the calls.
“Riiing, riiing,” was heard in cubicle 7. In fact, there were many phones ringing at the same time in the room on the third floor of the Forensic Psychiatry Hospital, in the offices of the PAS linein Rio Piedras, but this call was different.
“You have contacted the PAS Line. How can I help you?”, responded a crisis manager from the Mental Health and Addiction Services Administration (Assmca), whose identity is protected by The new day.
It was 4:26 pm, and the driver had just started the afternoon shift. While she was talking to the person she called, she copied her number and pasted it into another screen to search the database. She had a file. I had called before.
“What happened? We have spoken other times. It’s me…”she said calmly, but, at the same time, worried upon hearing that the man was unbalanced.
In the tone of his voice and the pauses he made when speaking, one could recognize his empathy and patience in dealing with a complex situation like the one that was happening.
In the afternoon shift, from 4:00 pm to 12:00 am, he was accompanied by more than a dozen handlers – separated by cubicles – who wear headphones with microphones to maintain the confidentiality of the process and that no one else hears them. who call the PAS Line (Psychosocial First Aid).
“You have taken the most important step, which is to see that you need help. We are always here to listen to you. (…) This is a crisis line. We serve to listen, validate, attend…”, explained the manager in her call, which lasted more than an hour.
The conversation flowed between questions to determine if the man was in a risky situation for his life or that of others. Identified suicidal behaviors. He Elderly He was alone in his home, so his call was a cry for immediate help..
The handler briefly interrupted the call and quickly dialed the 9-1-1 Emergency System to alert them of the situation. When he returned to the pending line, the man had already hung up. He called again, but didn’t answer the first two times. The third time was the charm.
“I’m here. They’re already on their way. Let me know when they arrive. I need you to look outside, because help is coming right now. (…) Normally, they can arrive between 15 to 20 minutes,” he explained to the man.
In that early morning shift, the calls are from the elderly population, who are totally alone in their home
“I am here with you. we all deserve mental health”he reiterated, as they waited together in line.
On the handler’s computer screen, there was a piece of paper with the phrase: “Be the energy you want to attract”.
As of 6:21 p.m., they had been attended to 364 calls a dayindicated the monitor located in the direction of the cubicle corridor and where it is presented, in real time, which specialists are available to attend to the PAS Line, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the past 22 years.
They expand their resources
From January 1 to September 30, the PAS Line answered 278,155 calls, including 14,583 related to suicidal behavior. 2022 closed with 225,626 calls, of which 13,297 exhibited suicidal behavior, so this year that figure was already exceeded by 1,286.
At the same time, the problem of suicides in Puerto Rico continues to be a latent concern. As of October 15, the Police had 131 recorded this year.
The doctor Monserrate Allende, coordinator of the PAS Line, acknowledged that before they only had 42 crisis managers and, now, the staff is made up of 72, in response to the increase in demand for mental health services. While she gave a tour of the PAS Line facilities, she showed the place where more cubicles will be located.
“The more staff, the greater the number of calls (answered). Only one has been lost during the day and we scan and call (back) that person from that missed call. As it is such a delicate crisis line, we immediately identified the number of that so-called loss and returned it,” he said about what happened before the visit of The new day.
Allende estimated that Up to eight calls can be missed in a day, depending on the load on the line. He assured, however, that they are always returned for follow-up..
The specialists behind the phone must have at least a master’s degree in Social Work, Counseling or Psychology. In addition, the PAS Line has doctors in Clinical Psychology. The 72 handlers are divided into three shifts: 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, 4:00 pm to 12:00 am and 12:00 am to 8:00 am The main population served is made up of women and older adults.
“Today we have many elderly people in Puerto Rico with great needs, and really little family support. In that early morning shift, the calls are from the elderly population, who are totally alone in their home”, commented, for his part, the administrator of the Assmca, Carlos Rodriguez Mateo.
Restart of lives
“There are other personnel who are following up on the different cases, because it is not only about attending, but coordinate all services and provide appropriate follow-up, because our purpose is to strengthen that person so that they can begin their recovery process.”Allende emphasized.
That is the case of the clinical psychologist Sergio Davilawho is assigned to the Reinicia project, which follows up on patients who are discharged from psychiatric hospitals.
“You always have to be very alert because each call is different. It can be about suicide, to coordinate an appointment or for a relief session.. “I am treating patients in that initial phase after they are discharged, making sure they comply with their treatments,” he said before contacting relatives of some patients.
After several failed attempts with family members, he managed to speak with a patient’s referral contact to arrange an appointment. “To give up, it takes”he said enthusiastically.
The specialists agreed that part of the special thing about the PAS Line, which since 2020 has also has a chatis provide a spark of hope to people in the midst of anguish who may be going through crisis situations, such as the loss of a family member, an accident, a divorce or any issue related to a mental health disorder.
“When the person calls, we give them that space to vent, so that they can vent and express what they think and feel, tell their story, the reasons why they are calling and, immediately, we give them counseling, which are the necessary tools for the person to manage the situation,” explained Dr. Allende.
In other instances, the calls are from an entire family unit, which starts with one person and then the phone is passed around. There is no time limit. “We seek to reduce this stressor to be able to stabilize the person and coordinate services, whether outpatient or in a hospital,” she explained.
One always has to be very alert because each call is different
He added that the Christmas season – which is about to begin – is usually one of high demand for the PAS Line because, “while some celebrate, others suffer losses.”
“Any situation of loss in our lives is going to alter, it is going to disorganize our thoughts, our emotions and it does not mean that it is a mental health disorder. We are going through a crisis where we are affected and the crises are temporary and reversible, but it is necessary to seek emotional help”, emphasized the doctor, who has been in charge of the PAS Line since the phone rang for the first time.
The PAS Line 1-800-981-0023/988 or TDD 1-888-672-7623 is available free of charge 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to all those who need initial psychosocial help. It offers guidance, crisis counseling, preliminary screening and hospital coordination, among other services.