In May’s ‘Mental Health Awareness’ Month – Buckelew Programs’ Suicide Prevention Hotline Celebrates 50 Years of Continuous Operation

Founded in 1971, the hotline has run 24/7 without disruption, helping tens of thousands of callers in need of crisis intervention

NOVATO, CA - May 21 – Buckelew Programs’ nationally accredited Suicide Prevention Hotline has operated continuously for 50 years, with the first call on May 10, 1971. Founded by then Marin County’s Coroner Investigator Keith Craig, what was originally the Marin Suicide Prevention Center and Grief Counseling Program has grown from 50 calls per month to approximately 1,000 calls per month. Over five decades, hotline staff and volunteers have provided intervention to more than 300,000 people experiencing a mental health crisis.

“The Suicide Prevention Hotline and grief counseling program is a vital resource to those in our community who are experiencing a crisis and need someone to talk with,” says Chris Kughn, CEO of Buckelew Programs. “This resource is free to anyone in our community who wants to reach out, 24/7. I am incredibly proud and humbled by the amazing volunteers and staff who make this a reality.”

In 1996, the then Suicide Prevention & Community Counseling (SP&CC) program merged with the Family Service Agency. By 2012, the program had expanded to include Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, as well as joined the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network. In 2014, SP&CC became a Buckelew program with 35 volunteers and six staff members.

“Being a Marin native,” says Rich Slusher, a 25-year volunteer, “I originally thought this whole population was all milk and honey. But there is a subgroup out there struggling in a lot of different ways.”

“The Hotline serves a dual function in the community,” says Susan Acker, senior training specialist. “We’re there for a crisis, as well as for people with on-going mental health issues. Just knowing that we’re there to talk to is a great comfort to so many. I can’t imagine the impact if we weren’t here; a free resource, immediately accessible and utilized by thousands experiencing crisis.”

What can people in distress expect when they call?

“Our goal is to always de-escalate the situation and to keep them out of the ER,” says Susan. “We don’t preach, judge or offer solutions. We first establish a connection and slow things down. ‘What brought you to this spot?’ ‘What would ease your anxiety?’ ‘Who is in your corner?’ Even if they’ve just taken a bottle of pills - there is hope. They’re calling because they want someone to say STOP.”

“I applaud people for calling,’ says Rich. “It’s a very scary place to call a complete stranger and talk about some very emotional issues. We offer anonymity and start with a clean slate and no emotional baggage. We just go from there.”

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the program lost half of its volunteers in 2020, which was devastating to a Hotline that operates 24/7. “But,” says Susan, “we never turned off the lights. We never shut the door.” Many of the remaining volunteers took on double shifts to ensure all calls – some of which can go for as long as 30-60 minutes – were answered.

The Hotline is in dire need of more volunteers to maintain current levels of service. The 40-hour training, a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction (Novato location), is offered four times a year. Volunteers can come from all walks of life – from students and those in recovery to parents and retirees. Many are also working full-time jobs.

“This program has personally given back to me more than I could have imagined,” says Rich. “It opened my eyes to certain things I was going through, and it’s been a great source of pride for a long time.”

“When people are able to pour out their hearts in a safe space and let despair out, they get a psychological second wind,” said Susan. “Connecting with somebody makes all the difference. That’s why it works.”

Interested in learning more about the Suicide Prevention Hotline training program? Call 415-720-1167 or email

About Buckelew Programs
Buckelew Programs' mission is to promote recovery, resilience, and hope by providing behavioral health and support services that enhance quality of life. Buckelew Programs helps people in Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties with mental illness, addiction and related behavioral health challenges lead healthier and more independent lives. For more information, please visit