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Crisis Text Line: Volunteer Hannah Emmett Offers Insights on Mental Health Support

Crisis Text Line: Volunteer Hannah Emmett Offers Insights on Mental Health Support

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By Kimberlee Ratliff
Program Director, APUS School Counseling Program & Active Minds Advisor

and Hannah Emmett
Active Minds of APUS President and Crisis Text Line Volunteer

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults experiences some form of mental illness during their lifetime. About 50% of those adults experience the onset of mental illness at about age 14 and 75% by the age of 24. It is no surprise that this younger demographic group needs resources to cope with mental health conditions and crisis situations.

Emergency support has been available for anyone through crisis and suicide prevention phone lines and hospital emergency rooms. But there is one particular communication resource aimed at adolescents that they feel more comfortable with: text messaging.

In 2013, the New York City-based nonprofit organization Crisis Text Line was launched as a resource for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis to reach out for support through text messaging. This service is one way to decrease barriers associated with seeking help for issues related to suicidal ideation, anxiety, relationship problems, depression and other crises.

Some of the common barriers are related to finances and limited resources in their local areas.  The Crisis Text Line is a free service with volunteers available at all times within the United States.

When Crisis Text Line receives a text, the texter receives two automated responses. The responses let the texter know he or she has connected to the Crisis Text Line and has the opportunity to share more information.  Then, that person is connected to a crisis counselor volunteer, typically within five minutes of initial contact.

Although Crisis Text Line is not a replacement for mental health care, it provides a way to connect with a trained volunteer who can help users cope with their situations and offer support.  Volunteers use questions, empathy and active listening skills to help the person in crisis reach a calm, safe place.

Teenagers and Vets Common Users of Crisis Text Line

Hannah Emmett has worked as a Crisis Text Line volunteer since 2015. She is also the president of Active Minds, a student organization dedicated to mental health education and communication.

In discussing her experiences, Hannah shared that 75% of those using the text line are between the ages of 13-25 and about 10% are under the age of 13. Although Crisis Text Line is available to individuals of all ages, youth tend to use it the most.

This data on the primary age group using Crisis Text Line makes sense, because texting has become a common method of communication among younger age groups. In addition, the onset of mental health disorders is common during adolescence and young adulthood.

Hannah also noted that Crisis Text Line has a growing trend of veterans using the Crisis Text Line. Many veterans, and even active-duty servicemembers, find comfort in the anonymity of the service. They don’t have to worry about anything they share getting back to military leadership and affecting their career.

Additionally, many servicemembers and veterans, like civilians, may not feel comfortable dialing a traditional crisis hotline such as the Veterans Crisis Line. It is difficult for them to speak with someone over the phone, especially if they do not have a lot of privacy to make a call.

Crisis Text Line currently has a veteran supervisor on staff and has many veterans as volunteers. Veterans tend to be an excellent fit for volunteering at Crisis Text Line, as they have fortitude and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.

Text Conversations Provide Emotional Relief, Active Rescues Rarely Needed

Hannah has participated in approximately 1,700 text conversations. Only eight of those conversations resulted in an active rescue situation needing an emergency response. An active rescue typically occurs when a texter is at risk of immediate harm and is not willing to use a safety plan.

Crisis Text Line Volunteers Have Supervision and Receive Training

Although Hannah is not a licensed counselor or mental health professional, she is supervised by qualified professionals who can activate that additional support. Additionally, Hannah received 34 hours of training as part of the volunteer requirements.

Her training was 100% online. The training involved a combination of videos, readings and role-playing exercises, as well as recorded versions of Crisis Text Line conversations. The training also includes a diverse group of topics, including:

  • Suicide
  • Risk assessment
  • Eating disorders
  • Child abuse
  • Relationships
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Mental health disorders

Crisis Text Line Volunteers Work Remotely, Focus on Building Rapport

In addition to the 100% online training, the volunteer work is also done remotely. This practice eliminates any physical location demands and makes working for Crisis Text Line a flexible volunteer opportunity for everyone.

During her volunteer work, Hannah commonly addresses a variety of crises and/or mental health-related issues. That includes people with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, relationship break-ups, domestic violence and child abuse. Great care is taken to ensure that the appropriate resources are available at all times to support texters’ needs.

Although individuals’ situations can be challenging to hear, volunteers learn to build rapport. That aids volunteers in gathering important information to help those who reach out for assistance.

Hannah advises anyone who is thinking about volunteering to be patient learning the ropes. When she first started volunteering for Crisis Text Line, she felt she wasn’t very helpful and expected to resolve everyone’s problems. But once she settled into the volunteer role, she realized just being there for someone in crisis is actually helping them in their greatest moment of need.

Many Crisis Text Line users may not feel comfortable talking to anyone they know about their problem or crisis situation. Instead, some texters may be more comfortable sharing their moments of crisis with a stranger instead of someone they know. Often, they fear being judged. The volunteers at Crisis Text Line provide a source of support those in crisis wouldn’t have available otherwise.

Crisis Text Line Volunteers Also Need to Take Care of Their Own Mental Health

The information shared through the Crisis Text Line often triggers emotions in the volunteers. Similar to mental health professionals, volunteers can experience compassion fatigue.

Hannah tells her fellow volunteers that self-care is important. Volunteers need to make sure they schedule some time off to handle their emotional selves.

Practicing self-care is a way to prevent emotional burnout and lessens the risk of compassion fatigue. Keeping that principle in mind, the Crisis Text Line limits volunteers to no more than 12 hours per week. That ensures they have the time to tend to their own mental health and wellbeing.

The typical time commitment for volunteering with the Crisis Text Line is 200 hours a year. The time is flexible and allows volunteers to set their own schedules.

Since the service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, volunteer time can fit into nearly anyone’s schedule and their time zone. Volunteers sign up for shifts through a portal, which helps ensure there are enough volunteers and supervisors with mental health credentials available to cover all shifts.

Great care is taken to make sure the appropriate resources are available at all times to support texters’ needs.

How You Can Help Others Struggling with Mental Health Issues

There are several ways to help people struggling with mental health problems:

  1. Volunteer. If you are interested in joining the other 4,000 active volunteers with the Crisis Text Line, information is available.
  2. Use or share the Crisis Text Line with others. The Crisis Text Line is accessed by texting 741-741 from anywhere in the United States. Share this number with friends and family. Also, keep it for yourself in the event you might need support in the future.
  3. If you are a school counselor or administrator, download a school tool kit with resources and tools to use at your school. Getting the word out about the Crisis Text Line provides one more resource to reach children and adolescents experiencing mental health issues.

Mental Health Webinar Coming Up on March 1

Active Minds is sponsoring a webinar with Hannah Emmett as our guest speaker. If you are interested in learning more about Hannah’s experience volunteering for the Crisis Text Line, please join us on March 1, 2018, at 7 p.m. ET.

CTL-Active-MindsAbout the Authors

Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff is a Program Director and Professor of School Counseling at American Public University. She earned a B.S. in Psychology at Fayetteville State University, an M.Ed. in School Counseling at Campbell University, and an Ed. D. in Counseling Psychology at Argosy University/Sarasota. Kimberlee is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (WA), a National Certified Counselor and a National Certified School Counselor. She holds school counseling certifications in Virginia and Washington State. Her research interests include suicide prevention and child and adolescent mental health/wellness. She also serves as an advisor for Active Minds of American Public University.

Hannah Emmett is an undergraduate student at American Public University, majoring in history. She is also the President of Active Minds. She has volunteered for the Crisis Text Line since Christmas Eve of 2015 and earned a Congressional Award for her many hours spent in the areas of volunteer service and personal development. She has also earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award for two consecutive years. She is working toward her goal of becoming a social studies teacher, where she intends to emphasize good mental health practices in her own classroom.

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