Mental Health and Communication Barriers: Are We Providing Outdated Crisis Center Services?

photo (14)Imagine, if you will, that you are a teenager and you need immediate help because you are in crisis and the only thing you have to communicate with is your phone. Do you call for help or do you text for help? According to pewinternet.org, “Texting dominates teens’ general communication choices. Overall, 75% of all teens text, and 63% say that they use text to communicate with others every day.” (n.d.). Therefore, it’s highly likely that a teenager in crisis would text for help rather than call for help. However, few crisis centers offer crisis text messaging services. Additionally, our teens may not be aware that such services have become available in recent years. Sadly, teens in desperate need of help go unnoticed because we haven’t stayed up with the times. I know because I’ve learned of one such young man who died by suicide because he texted people who didn’t have the resources to help him in his time of need. Have I caught your attention yet?

Regarding attention, Dan Strauss, Executive Director of The Alex Project, caught my full attention this past Wednesday on the Care For Your Mind blog. In Care For Your Mind’s blog post titled “We Need to Provide Services that Young People Will Use” Dan shared his story about how his 17 year old son Alex died by suicide October 11, 2010. He also shared that his son had sent text messages to his friends and counselor just prior (Care For Your Mind, 2014).

I don’t know about you, but I found myself wondering why Alex didn’t text a crisis center. The Alex Project notes on their website, “Had he known there was a crisis center open 24×7 that would have welcomed a text from him, Alex might still be alive today” (About The Alex Project, n.d.). Based on the tragic and preventable death of Alex it’s resoundingly clear that we are using outdated services. In answer to the question “Are we providing outdated crisis center services?” the answer is yes! Of course we still need crisis phone services, but at this point in time we also need crisis text messaging services as well. It’s beyond time that we catch up with the newest technologies.

In addition to adding text messaging services to our crisis centers around the country, we need to make sure that our teenagers are aware that such services exist. With suicide as the third leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 10 to 24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013) it’s imperative that we make sure that our young people know what technological services are available to help them should they find themselves or someone they know in crisis.

Despite the sadness of this blog post and the seriousness of the topic, I learned from reading Dan’s story that there are now a few crisis centers that offer text messaging crisis services specifically for our youth. You can find those crisis centers listed below. Additionally, you can learn more about Dan’s mission by visiting The Alex Project website. He offers Alex Project Crisis Line Texting Cards that you can order and share.

Before signing off, I just want to share with you that I highly respect and admire Dan Strauss and his mission. He gives all of us parents, families, friends and loved ones of a teenager(s) great hope that we will eventually succeed in preventing youth suicide. I’m feeling thankful today that I learned about The Alex Project, and that Dan has so graciously shared the tragic loss of his son in an effort to advocate for meaningful change. From the heart, I’m so sorry Dan for the loss of your beautiful son. Thank you Dan for all you do and stand for. His memory will live on, and many young lives will be saved due to your efforts.

All the very best,

Stacy

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YOUTH CRISIS TEXT MESSAGING RESOURCES

Crisis Text Line

The Reno Crisis Call Center

121Help.me

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About The Alex Project. (n.d.). In The Alex Project. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.alexproject.org/about-the-alex-project/

Care For Your Mind. (2014, May 20). Re: We need to provide services that young people will use [web log post]. Retrieved from http://careforyourmind.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Suicide prevention: youth suicide. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html

Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Highlights of the Pew Internet Projects Research on Teens [Teen Fact sheet]. Retrieved May 22, 2014 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/