(865) 584-4424

By: Barbara S F Davis

Sobering statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health estimate that 1 in 4 U. S. adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year; some 20.9 million American adults have a mood disorder. “Tennessee ranks higher than the national averages for untreated mental illness and suicide,” noted Deborah Patterson, Executive Director of CONTACT Care Line.

Deborah Patterson

Deborah Patterson

According to Patterson, four crisis call centers in the Tennessee Valley have succumbed to economic pressures in the last ten years. There are medical centers providing call-in lines for health-related issues, but are not a resource for those who just need to talk.

CONTACT Care Line is the remaining call center that gives free and universal access for those who need someone to listen. Patterson says, “Crisis call centers like CONTACT Care Line address a critical need. A single phone call can prevent a psychiatric hospitalization or emergency room visit. This means saving the community tens of thousands of dollars and incalculable human suffering.

How do individuals find out about Contact Care Line so they can make a call for help when needed?

“Our crisis line number is publicized through print advertising, news articles, email marketing, and social media. We do community outreach through presentations at local churches and businesses. We build relationships with other social services agencies for inter-agency referrals.”

KnoxZine hopes this article will magnetize new volunteers who are inspired to share in this life-saving work. KnoxZine’s founder and editor, Debra Dylan, successfully utilized CONTACT’s Care Line in the past. She says, “I’ve called the helpline twice. Once for a problem at work, and another time regarding a family member who was out-of-control. Both times, the thing I liked best was the volunteer suggesting and helping me create a plan of action for the immediate future. It helped immensely. The respective volunteers’ soothing professionalism was calming and comforting to me.”

“Everyone needs someone that they can talk to without fear of judgment. Many of our callers do suffer from mental health disorders, but anyone within the 865 area code can make a free, confidential phone call to (865) 584-4424 for a listening ear, regardless of the type of issue they may be facing.”  

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Volunteers & Training

Who answers the help line? 

Our crisis line specialists are trained volunteers from all walks of life. Our volunteers range in age from 19 to 70, [they] include students, self-employed entrepreneurs, 9 to 5’ers, homemakers, and retirees, and are racially and ethnically diverse. We honor and appreciate the divergent experiences of all our volunteers. Anyone who wants to improve communication skills is a good candidate for Contact Care Line. We provide a 40-hour training called The Art of Active Listening. This evidence-based active listening model was developed in the 1950s by psychologist Carl Rogers. Active listening is compatible with the mindfulness movement, because it teaches us to attend fully to the present moment so that we can listen deeply.”  

When and where is the next training?

“Our next training will be in Knoxville in late January. Training includes lectures, readings, video instruction, role-playing – everything to prepare for responding to different kinds of calls. Everyone has a mentor for their first 20 hours on the phone.”

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please call Deb at (865) 312-7450.

How many hours per month does a volunteer spend answering the phone?

“This depends on the volunteer, of course. They might work one 5-hour shift a month or one a week.”

Impact on Callers

You’ve said that a CONTACT volunteer may have been the first true listener of the caller’s entire life.

“Yes, our volunteers have heard this said many times over the years.”

What issues do callers present, what is your demographic and how many calls is an individual permitted?

“Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and chronic mental illness are the most common issues. The age range is from 12 to people in their 90s.   “We also receive suicide calls. A therapist, minister, or other trained mental health professional is always on call to help volunteers when there’s a high suicide risk. When needed, they are brought into a three-way conference call if the caller gives permission.

“People can call more than once because some of our success results from relationship-building.Callers eventually develop their own insights worth hundreds of times more than advice from others. In the words of Carl Rogers, ‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’”

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How many calls a day does CONTACT Care Line receive? What’s the average length of a call?

“We answer an average of 30 calls per day. The average length of the call is 20 – 30 minutes.”

Do you have examples of CONTACT’s impact on callers?

“Yes. Here is a summary of what a caller named Margaret told us:”

After escaping to a women’s shelter with my disabled son, and a divorce, the best journey for us seemed my becoming a college student. I had no idea how much I’d suffer from social isolation. Without CONTACT to call, my life and the lives of those around me would have been more difficult. You were a vital link in my support system while attending Maryville College. The statistics say that as a single mom, I had less than a 10% likelihood of graduating. Thanks to CONTACT volunteers, I graduated this spring. Your listening helped me move from despair and isolation to action and choice. Just being there with me, not trying to fix me, not condemning me—and not telling me what to do—helped me trust myself and make good, though difficult choices for my son and myself.

 Reassurance Program

Through CONTACT’s Reassurance Program, the fragile elderly, disabled, or home-bound can sign up for daily safety checks, medication reminders, and social calls every morning and evening.

Reassurance helps seniors live independently with greater dignity. One caregiver of a father with dementia is grateful that someone “took the time to really listen” to her dad.

How do we sign up a family member for Reassurance calls?

“It’s easy to sign up for this free service. Just call our business office at (865) 312-7450 to request an enrollment form.

Founding Members Linda Doyle and Betty Anne Domm at the 40th Anniversary Celebration

Founding Members Linda Doyle and Betty Anne Domm at CONTACT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration

 CONTACT’S 40 Year Anniversary

“A lot has changed in 40 years, but what hasn’t changed is that lonely people, people with mental illnesses, the elderly – all of us, really – need someone to talk to every once in a while. What CONTACT does here and around the country is to provide the simple power of a listening ear,” says Rev. Lee Morris, CONTACT founding member and recipient of Leading Lights Award, 2013

“I get chills every time I think about the fact that every day CONTACT volunteers have answered the phones since we opened in 1973.” – Linda Doyle, founding member.

How to Support CONTACT

Answering 10,000 calls per year with less than $100,000 annual revenue, CONTACT Care Line offers such good help on such a small budget.

“CONTACT aims to strengthen its donor and volunteer base across the nine counties within the 865 area code. The additional resources will be used to expand to 24/7 coverage, open a Knoxville satellite office, and launch text and chat features for young people,” said Patterson.  

For more information about volunteer opportunities, please call Deb at (865) 312-7450,

email or visit

 Donations are gratefully received by mail: CONTACT Care Line, P.O. Box 4641 Oak Ridge, TN 37831

© Barbara S F Davis, 2013.

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