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We’ve all been there. It’s late, the Metro refuses to arrive, and the echo of footsteps at the station only serves to further etch your loneliness. But just when jumping in front of a train sounds like a better idea than getting on one, you see a brightly lit marquee with a message that seems to offer some hope—or at least a sympathetic ear: “Before you reach the end of your line…Try this one: The Samaritans Suicide Prevention Hotline.” The message hangs in the U Street/Cardozo Metro station, but when you call the number, you get nothing but a phone-company drone informing you that the line has been disconnected.
In most circumstances, a disconnected line is hardly a crisis: Businesses, charities, and people fold their tents and move all the time, leaving disconnected lines in their wake. Nobody bats an eye. But a disconnected suicide-prevention hot line is quite another matter. What better way to convince society’s most depressed souls that there’s no where left to turn?
Metro, however, is not the only perpetrator of what appears to be a cruel hoax against suicide contemplators. Another Samaritans’ public service ad has appeared repeatedly in Washington City Paper and other local newspapers: “Suicide. It’s a call for help,” it reads. The ad serves up the same dead-end number. To round out the illusion, the Samaritans’ “24-hour Hotline for suicide prevention” is listed in the community services section of the 1996-97 D.C. phone book.
The hot line apparently stopped fielding calls nearly two years ago, when the Washington chapter of the Samaritans shut down for lack of funding. For a while, callers to the Samaritans’ hot line were referred to the District’s crisis line. But now all they hear is the disconnection message. (A worker at the Samaritans of New York City said that she had heard reports that the D.C. number was down; then she offered some long-distance reassurance: “If you want to talk to us in New York, you can. Do you feel suicidal?”)
For now, then, despair-ridden D.C. residents can contact the hot line operated by the D.C. Mental Health Emergency Psychiatric Response Division. The number, (202) 561-7000, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week: “We deal with everything from suicidal calls to people just trying to get things off their chest,” says a worker at the crisis line.
Meanwhile, a Metro spokesperson said the Samaritans Suicide Prevention hot line ad at the Cardozo station was the only one remaining in the Metro system and vowed that it would be dismantled.—Eddie Dean