- Sep 28, 2020
- Social Responsibility
A Matter of Life or Death: JD’s Suicide Prevention Hotline
by Kelly Dawson
When JD.com’s “Life Channel” suicide hotline team received an alert that a customer had asked if a Swiss Army knife sold on the e-commerce site was sharp enough to cut his wrists, team member Li Yan sprung into action. First she called the police, and then cancelled the customer’s order for the knife, which was scheduled to arrive the following day.
Within one hour, Li received confirmation that the customer was safe and under the care of his family.
Since Li and others founded the “Life Channel” project in March of this year, the 12-person team has prevented 175 suicides. Comprised of customer service staff with many years of front-line service, the team is trained in psychological counseling services to soothe customers that express suicidal thoughts during communication with JD’s customer service teams, and to take appropriate action to preserve their safety.
Potential suicide cases are identified by JD’s intelligent “Tianxiang” system via key words used in messaging and phone calls to the site’s customer service center, and automatically transferred to the “Life Channel” team.
Although members of the team are on call 24 hours a day, the hours of midnight to 6 o’clock in the morning are often the most nerve-wracking, said Bao Wei, one member of the team. Indeed, the latest research shows that suicides mostly occur between midnight and 4 am.
It can be a taxing role, with the heavy emotional weight that comes with speaking to people in what may be the lowest moments of their lives, according to Li. She has personally handled more than a dozen suicide cases in the past six months.
To decompress from work, Li often turns to meditative activities like housework and cooking. After a particularly difficult day, she once picked up a mop and a rag and spent two hours cleaning, and then tuned out while cooking, she recalled.
“Afterward, eating the food I cooked and looking around at my tidy home, I felt much better,” Li said. She is naturally introverted, and needs that time to recharge.
In contrast is Xu Meng, a more extroverted member of the “Life Channel” team, also its youngest. Born in 1997, Xu joined JD immediately after graduating from university. After two years with the company, he was assigned to the “Life Channel” project group.
As the product of a fairly stable upbringing, Xu has never experienced suicidal thoughts, he said. But he also understands that others are less fortunate, and that there are many ways in which a person can experience difficulties in life.
When Xu needs to decompress from a difficult day on the hotline, he pushes himself harder in the gym. “Exercising in the gym and sweating makes me feel free of my own thoughts, and helps me stop thinking about work,” he said. He never misses a day.
The team also subscribes to a philosophy that “negatives make positives,” he said, regularly organizing seminars and group discussions in which team members share their emotions and describe challenges encountered at work.
“After sharing with each other, it seems that the negative energy held in my heart is shared by my peers, and my pressure is reduced,” Xu said.
According to statistics, the majority of suicides occur on impulse. When suicidal thoughts arise, the earlier the intervention, the higher the probability of success. For this reason, the work done by Li and the “Life Channel” project is absolutely vital.
When Li feels overwhelmed by a call, she reminds herself of the training the team received from a psychological counselor to prepare for this work.
“He told us, there are no difficult skills in communicating with someone struggling with suicidal thoughts,” she recalled. “You just need to listen carefully, slow down the pace, and try to connect with the person on an emotional level that resonates.”
In short, the work doesn’t necessarily require any special skills, she said—only a kind heart. Thanks to Li and the rest of the “Life Channel” project, at least 175 people now know that someone is listening.