College Volunteer Helps Save Lives at Suicide Hotline

September 06, 2017

Elyse Notarianni, 21, grew up outside Scranton, Pennsylvania but is currently studying Spanish and print journalism at American University in Washington, DC. She has spent the past few years working as a writer and editor for a the startup website She has worked as a communications consultant for small businesses in the Scranton area and was the strategic communications intern for the US Chamber of Commerce last fall. Elyse spent six months learning Spanish in Madrid, Spain, and in her free time enjoys spending time with friends, yoga, writing and Netflix.

Eight in ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions, according to Mental Health America. Some people will make comments like “You’d be better off without me.” Some people abuse substances. Others call a suicide hotline, and if they do, Melissa Bendell might just be on the other side of the line.

Melissa Bendell is a 20-year-old college student from Framingham, Massachusetts. When she was a junior in high school, Melissa started volunteering at Call2Talk, a confidential mental health and emotional support call line that provides a safe place to talk to anyone going through a hard time in their lives. Callers often admit to suicidal thoughts, and volunteers are trained to inform callers of their options and connect them with other resources that can help.

“By sharing their personal stories of tragedy, recovery, despair, and grief,” its website proclaims, “callers feel relief, comfort, and hope.”

What started out as a way for Bendell to earn service hours for National Honors Society became meaningful work she would continue to do long past high school.

“This is something no one really talked about,” Bendell said. “I kept doing it because it is important to offer this service that so many people need. I didn’t realize how many people in my community were depressed, suicidal or going through tough times so it really opened my eyes to the fact that you really don’t know what people are going through.”

According to Mental Health America, Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 1% of all deaths. 30,000 Americans die by suicide each year, and an additional 500,000 Americans attempt suicide annually. This volunteer opportunity allowed Bendell to understand the people behind the statistics.

As she enters her junior year as a Spanish and Public Relations major at American University in Washington, DC, she is still involved in her community. Bendell returns as a volunteer on school breaks.

“It’s not really something you can do once and then never do again,” she said. “You go through training for months, and then you have the same callers call you. You learn a lot about them, make connections with them and you get to see them grow or heal.”

Throughout the job, she’s learned the value of communication, which has influenced her choice of study in college. Her conversations are confidential and often emotionally taxing. It’s not the easiest after-school job, but she says it’s worth it.

“I talked to someone for about an hour one day,” she said, “and they called back the next day and told the caller that I saved their life and that they were so thankful that I was there. I honestly almost cried I was so touched.”