According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is estimated that suicide call centers receive approximately 1,800 calls a day; that’s 54,000 calls a month.
The purpose of suicide prevention crisis call centers are multi-fold but mainly it’s to talk someone out of ending their life. Suicide prevention workers also provide much-needed emotional support and link callers to psychological treatment centers.
Why are there no comparable services for individuals who have homicidal thoughts?
I suspect that if such services were available, they would be highly utilized. There were approximately 165,000 murders in the United States (data excludes Florida) between 2000 and 2010. It is conceivable that at least some individuals could have been talked out of taking someone’s life or talked into seeking psychological help.
Studies have shown that after calling telephone crisis centers, callers experience a reduction in suicidality. There might be a similar reduction among callers experiencing homicidal feelings, especially since many people who are homicidal also report feeling suicidal.
Anecdotally speaking, it seems as though there is a non-negligible number of people who have homicidal thoughts. There are no official statistics but I receive many of these types of letters. Below are four excerpts from those letters:
“I have no feelings toward people. I want to kill people I want to toy with them give them hope and then watch the hope drain from them. [the abuse I sustained has been] coming back to me and its making it harder for me to keep the mask on. I want to kill so very badly I’m losing myself.”
“On the outside, my life appears to be great, but in my mind, I struggle. I have strong desires to kill. I do not want to, but in my mind, it is almost like 2 people instead of one and they always argue.”
“I want to kill and not just people who have slighted me (even thought the worms deserve it) I mean people in general and I’ve been planning how, when, where and everything else you can think of, I want to feel a person’s blood on me and watch them die, I know this is not normal.”
“I’ve spent the last thirty years living with…suicidal and homicidal thoughts…[lately] my homicidal thoughts have grown stronger. I’ve thought I could control what was going thru my head but the last couple of months it’s been a real struggle… Where can I turn to for help? I’m afraid I will actually harm someone.”
Many of these individuals want help. Their questions typically involve wanting to know whether their feelings are normal and how should they seek help. My general response is to strongly encourage them to seek immediate treatment.
The Domestic Violence High Risk Team Model (DVHRT)
There is one homicide prevention model in existence called the Domestic Violence High Risk Team Model (DVHRT). The high risk team is interdisciplinary in nature. Teams are comprised of individuals from victim services, probation, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, batterer intervention programs and local hospitals. The team assesses, identifies and assists victims who are high risk for homicide. The team also identifies high risk offenders and utilizes pretrial conditions to keep these offenders in custody. Between 2005 and 2011, one study showed that the team managed a total of 106 high risk cases. Their outcomes were impressive: None of the women were killed, 90% were linked with crisis services; 92% were not re-assaulted by the offender; and 93% did not find it necessary to relocate to a domestic violence shelter for safety.
Perhaps the DVHRT model could be utilized and expanded to prevent homicides beyond domestic violence situations. The drawbacks of such a model may be that it is costly and labor intensive.
It would be advantageous to institute homicide prevention telephone services. There’s no way to know with certainty how many suicides hotlines have prevented but it’s likely a significant number; a comparable homicide prevention telephone service could have that same impact.
It certainly worth a try.