Critter Corner: A Friendship Line for Lonely Seniors

Dear Ernie and Janette,

My father died earlier this year and my mom lives alone. She has friends she sees sometimes, but I can tell she is lonely. I talk to her as much as my schedule allows, but unfortunately, that’s not enough. Is there a place that you know of that she can call just for someone to talk to on occasion?

Thanks for your help!

Lowan Lee

Dear Lowan,

Back in 1973, the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention & Grief Related Services in San Francisco founded the national “Friendship Line.” The service takes telephone calls on its 800 line (800-971-0016) from seniors throughout the country who are in crisis, or from seniors around in the country who simply need a friendly voice or willing ear.

The Friendship Line Has Been Helping Lonely Seniors for 45 Years!

More than 45 years after its founding, The Friendship Line remains unique as the nation’s only combined crisis line and “warmline” for non-urgent calls focusing on disabled adults and people age 60 and older. It operates 24-7 and is the only service in the country accredited by the American Association of Suicidology.

“It began in response to the high rates of suicide among older adults in the San Francisco Bay region,” founder Dr. Patrick Arbore says, adding that the “traditional suicide prevention centers were often not able to serve the specialized needs of older people, whose lives are more likely to become crowded with issues of illness, isolation, loss, substance abuse, and grief.”

The Friendship Line Helps Thousands of Seniors Nationwide

The Friendship Line handles about 8,500 calls monthly, about half from people who call in—often referred by doctors, therapists and other healthcare providers, in addition to those who learn about it by word-of-mouth or from one of Arbore’s many lectures throughout the country. Many of those who call report that it’s the only human voice they’ve heard all day.

Targeted training helps assure that all of the 85 volunteers and 7 staff members who answer the phones there are well-versed in handling the calls that come in, many of which are emotionally charged. The volunteers are trained for 16 hours on active listening techniques, suicide assessment, role playing, how to handle difficult callers, how to address the needs of callers with disabilities, how to detect elder abuse and report it if need be—and importantly, get sensitized to the various ways ageism plays out in our society. In addition, each volunteer must listen in on calls for three four-hour shifts before handling one alone.

The Friendship Line Does Outreach, as Well

In addition to receiving incoming calls, the Friendship Line also offers outreach to a list of about 200 people scheduled to receive regular calls, from daily to weekly, to help monitor their physical and mental health concerns. Many family members, especially those who live distantly, herald the call-out service as a godsend.

The toll-free Friendship Line is available 24 hours every day of the year at 800-971-0016.

Hop this helps,

Ernie and Jannette

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