StarVista’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center Saves Lives

There is one suicidal death every 12.3 minutes. It takes the lives of over 30,000 people in a given year. It is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages and the 2nd leading cause for 15-24 year-olds. These are the facts about suicide that provides a small glimpse into a rising public health crisis in the United States. If you look beyond the statistics there are real people, just like you and or someone you may know, who is struggling with grief, depression, anxiety, trauma, and everyday life challenges. They are trying to escape feelings of rejection, hurt or loss. They are angry, ashamed and guilty. They are feeling worried, unwanted, unloved. They feel alone.

Suicide is preventable. You can be the one to help. Most people who experience suicidal thoughts are in a temporary serious crisis, which can be prevented with your help.

StarVista Crisis Hotline

In San Mateo County, the StarVista Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center is certified by the American Association of Suicidology and available to San Mateo County residents. The Crisis Center provides an array of crisis services that include assessment, education, support, and outreach. With the support of the voter approved California Mental Health Services Act funds (MHSA -Prop. 63), in 2015 the Crisis Center provided youth intervention services by conducing 76 school presentations about crisis services that reached 2,214 students. This resulted in making contact with 138 of those students who were in crisis.

Within the center is the Crisis Hotline. The Crisis Hotline is a call center where residents who are in distress can call to speak to a trained counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Volunteers must go through a rigorous 32-hour training class where they learn the fundamentals of assessment, de-escalation, and support. In 2015 alone, 13,593 calls were placed to the Crisis Hotline, and 99 high-risk callers were provided with follow up services by an MHSA-funded therapist.

The level of coordination that goes into making the Crisis Center the backbone of San Mateo County’s response to suicide prevention for our residents is truly impressive. It is hard to believe that the hotline is a single desk tucked into the office corner. Each shift, a single volunteer staffs the call center often juggling multiple calls with incredible poise and grace.

“It’s a privilege to work every day with volunteers and staff that are so passionate and caring” said Narges Dillon program director for the Crisis Hotline. “When you call the crisis line, you will be heard by someone who cares and that is often what people need to get them through a rough day or a suicidal crisis.”

There are thousands of callers each year, and many stories have remained with the volunteers.

A caller contacted the crisis line and reported that she has experienced suicidal thoughts off and on since she was 12 years-old. She began crying. She had never spoken to anyone about these thoughts before. Whenever she was alone around trains or BART, she had suicidal thoughts and urges to jump in front of the train. The counselor helped de-escalate the caller and then helped her identify that her kids and her work is what makes her feel good, what helps her keep moving forward. The caller and the counselor created a safety plan which included contacting the crisis line. In under an hour the caller was comforted knowing a supportive and caring counselor was available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by simply picking up the phone and making a call.

If you or someone you know needs support by a trained volunteer, contact the Crisis Hotline at (650) 579-0350 or the Spanish Crisis Hotline at (800) 303-7432. It’s up to us.

For any other questions including volunteer opportunities, contact Narges Dillon at

In 2004, Proposition 63, now known as the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), was approved by California voters. This Act imposes a 1% tax on personal income in excess of $1 million. Much of the funding will serve as an avenue to reform California‘s mental health treatment system by allowing County health departments to provide comprehensive behavioral health services. San Mateo County, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) made a conscious decision to promote a vision of collaboration and integration by embedding MHSA programs and services within existing programmatic and administrative structures.