Help me, plz — NJ youth in crisis texting for help
Even in their darkest mental state, some younger individuals would rather text than call for help.
For many youth, texting is the ideal mode of communication for any remote conversation even with friends and family. So when reaching out to a stranger, especially to discuss a sensitive subject such as depression or suicidal thoughts, a conversation by text may offer more comfort — and anonymity — than the old-fashioned phone call.
New Jersey hotlines and suicide prevention groups have responded to the changing times by introducing text-for-help options for those in crisis.
2NFDFLOOR Youth Helpline, a statewide outlet based in Hazlet, exchanged nearly 130,000 text messages with children, teens and young adults in 2017. That's on top of another 16,000 phones calls with individuals aged 10 to 24.
"We want them to communicate with us in however way they're comfortable," said Anna Diaz-White, executive director of the phone-text line (888-222-2228).
Diaz-White noted a text conversation between youth and specialist could evolve into a true voice-to-voice phone chat once a connection is made.
The New Jersey Hopeline at Rutgers University, a statewide line devoted to suicide prevention, launched a 24/7 texting option in early 2014 (text to: email@example.com). The hotline also offers live web chats.
"The population under the age of 25 are utilizing social media, texting, online, to connect and meet people, so we would be foolish not to use those resources in suicide prevention to connect people," said Maureen Brogan, coordinator of the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth Program at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.
Since launching in August 2013, the national Crisis Text Line (741741) conducted nearly 40,000 conversations with individuals in New Jersey. Common reasons for initial texts include depression, family issues and suicidal ideation. Seventy-five percent of the service's users are below 25 years old.
Texting became a hotline option for Contact of Mercer County, NJ in spring 2016. The volunteer program offers TxtToday (609-488-4898) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
"After our volunteers complete their hotline training, we do an extra couple of hours of training on the text and chat programs," said Michael Cilino, director of online emotional support. "The nice thing about text is that a young person can be sitting in their living room — and their parents are used to seeing them text all the time anyway — and they can be talking to us and still have a fair amount of privacy."
Cilino said their text volume has been fairly low since inception — fewer than 50 conversations — but those individuals may have not reached out for help otherwise.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.