Mental Health and Communication Barriers: Are We Providing Outdated Crisis Center Services?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 Based on the tragic and preventable death of Alex it’s resoundingly clear that we are using outdated services. In answer to the question “Are we providing outdated crisis center services?”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/

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4 thoughts on “Mental Health and Communication Barriers: Are We Providing Outdated Crisis Center Services?

  1. Tea and OCD says:

    Astonishing! This is truly incredible and sad that something so blatantly obvious and simple isn’t the norm in all crisis hotlines . I just looked up our suicide prevention hotline and they note that they are in the process of setting up a system so you can text in a crisis but how long will that take. This is a resource that should be a no-brainer.
    Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    • stacysflutterings says:

      Hi Tea and OCD,

      I’m so glad to hear from you! I agree! It is astonishing that crisis text messaging services are not readily available. I was surprised too to learn about this. It’s promising to see that a few crisis centers are now offering text messaging services, but it’s not enough. And there is such a need for awareness campaigns so that all teens are aware that they can receive help, if needed, via text messaging. Thank goodness for people like Dan Strauss who are advocating for such change. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Please know that here on Stacy’s Flutterings your thoughts are valued. I greatly appreciate any input I receive. Maybe you can share what you have learned about lack of crisis text messaging services for teens with your readers. I’m confident that in time we will see better crisis services for our youth. We just need to keep talking, advocating and get the word out.

      All the best,
      Stacy

  2. Tea &OCD/No Doorknobs says:

    Stacy,

    I will definitely share this with others. Actually I brought it up during a meeting at work (pediatrics) as we were discussing the recent increase in parents calling for consult visits to deal with a child’s mental health and how here locally in MA the system is very flawed and leaves the family with limited options. Getting a bed for a child/teen is very hard given the limit amount available and not all settings are agreeable to certain situations. We have had parents go to the ER stay for 12 hrs only to be sent home and told to return in am to ER go through process again and still no bed of course if the child is a risk for self harming they are admitted to hospital under observation until deemed safe for release or a bed opens. It’s heart breaking to see and hear these families feel so helpless and a system that appears to not be ready for the need that is out there.

    Also on a personal level my mother has attempted suicide three times and as “luck” would have it I was always the one to find her. Thankfully she never succeeded in her attempts but still managed to do enough harm. The first time I was fairly young and had no idea what to do and a text app would have been helpful so she couldn’t hear my pleas for help on the phone. I know she herself would not use the app during her manic state of bipolar or even a depressive swing but I could or a family member of someone else could because you really have no idea what to do in those moments. Yes 911 is some feel the obvious but not always especially if the person is in full manic mode and anything goes even a punch or two and I’ve seen a cry for help end up with an arrest instead of trip to hospital.

    • stacysflutterings says:

      Hello Tea & OCD/No Doorknobs,

      So glad to hear from you again! I’m glad to hear that you will be sharing the blog post, here on Stacy’s Flutterings, that pertains to youth and the need for crisis text messaging services including the need for awareness campaigns as well.

      Regarding the increase in parents calling for mental health consultations for their children, on the one hand it’s good because parents are getting their children the help they need, but then on the other hand I find that it is disturbing, to say the least, that parents are being turned away from emergency rooms because the hospitals don’t have enough beds. There has to be something that we can do as a society to meet the need. If you are ever interested, we are discussing how to create a better mental health system on the Care For Your Mind Blog. You can access it here: http://careforyourmind.org/. The current topic is HIPAA. We’d love to have you!

      I want to thank you for sharing your story about how you found your mother, not once but three times, after she attempted suicide. I’m so sorry that you experienced that. Anyone who hasn’t been through this type of experience really can’t fathom what it is like to find a loved one after an attempt. I found my daughter as well after her second attempt. I don’t have the words to describe how difficult it was. I definitely had a brush with PTSD. I’m better now, but I think that I’m still healing from the experience which was four years ago. I, like you, also think that my loved one probably wouldn’t have used text messaging to get help when she was suicidal due to her state of mind. She hid her suicide note among other things so she didn’t fit the textbook “suicide attempter.” Even so, I do wonder what she would have done if she had a crisis text messaging service to reach out to. That’s why I think it’s so important that we educate our youth in hopes of teaching them what to do if they experience suicidal ideations. The young man that I wrote about, Alex who died by suicide, had been texting prior. It seems that in his situation he may have reached out to a crisis center using text messaging since he had reached out to his counselor and friends using text messaging. It’s so sad and heartbreaking. I hope that as a society we catch up to our youth in regard to technology and crisis prevention services. I also hope that as a society we can finally figure out how to meet the need of our youth in mental health crisis. There has to be a way that we can meet the need. We seem to be able to figure out how to meet our desire for sports etc., with national pastimes like football and baseball for example. However, when it comes to our health, especially mental health, we can’t seem to get it right. I believe that in time, due to the efforts of many dedicated advocates, we will get it figured out. Until then…

      I pray that your mother is doing well.

      All the best,
      Stacy

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