A silent cry for help: TXT4Life program allows youth to talk about suicide via text
BEMIDJI -- Perhaps the most important part of working with youth is knowing how to save a young person's life.
Youth providers learned how to do just that by exploring prevention, intervention and postvention strategies during suicide information sessions at the Sanford Center today.
The sessions are part of Evergreen Youth & Family Services 2015 annual conference "Building Positive Outcomes for Youth and Families." The two-day conference, co-sponsored by the Sanford Center and Bemidji State University social work program, continues Friday and has more than 350 people registered. The event is attended by social workers, teachers, school nurses, counselors and others who work with youth.
Over the years, the options to ask for help have grown beyond the walls of a counselor's office. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255), developed in 2005 allows people to talk out their suicidal thoughts and feelings for free 24/7. A decade later in 2015, youth are less likely to pick up a telephone to talk. A new service, TXT4Life, allows young people to text for help.
"It's really about getting people comfortable with asking the suicide question," said Ayla Koob, TXT4Life regional coordinator.
Koob, a licensed social worker, has been working with TXT4Life the past year. She said less than 1 percent of people ages 12 to 24 will actually call a lifeline. Using TXT4Life, a person who wants to take the first step in asking for help, sends the word "life" to the number 61222. A trained counselor corresponds with the person who initiated the "conversation." TXT4Life works along with law enforcement, area mobile crisis teams and suicide prevention programs.
"There are three ways people can use (TXT4Life)," Koob said. "They can use it if they are thinking about suicide...or maybe they're not thinking about suicide but still really need somebody to talk to or they're reaching out for a friend."
A question posed by the audience was a concern that some youth who need help may not have the minutes or messages included in a cell phone plan, which would prevent them from being able to reach out through TXT4Life.
Brian Glynn, a suicide prevention panelist and social worker, said a bill has been introduced in the Legislature to help pay for the program similar to how charges are not imposed on 911 calls.
If legislators pass the bill, $1.5 million will be appropriated from the general fund for a grant to expand the text message suicide prevention program in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and officials urged the public to contact their legislators in support of the bill. Until the TXT4Life number is free of charge, people can call 911 to be connected to a trained professional.
Koob said the TXT4Life call center answers 100 percent of texts that have been received. In 2013, more than 3,000 texts were answered and increased to more than 5,000 in 2014.
"One of my favorite moments probably was after Red Lake, I'd been up there a few times and after my presentation two girls came up to me and...said 'Thank you for what you do,'" Koob shared. "That's kind of the biggest reward for me."
In response to Koob's mention of Red Lake, an audience member referenced the shooting that occurred 10 years ago in which 10 members of the small community died. Evergreen Youth & Family Services Suicide Prevention Coordinator Stephanie Downey explained that any time a community experiences a trauma like the Red Lake school shooting, the people living there are at an increased risk. Downey said the way media handles reporting suicide deaths can really impact the community.
"You can't, I hate to say glorify, but you can't glorify suicide," Glynn said.
Standard suicide postvention protocol, whether the death occurred on the school campus or off, includes respecting and protecting confidentiality and directing media inquiries to a designated media spokesperson. A protocol chart was distributed to attendees at today's panel discussion.
Another audience member noted seeing alarming posts by students on social media websites. Glynn agreed that social media and rumors can be negative influences after a suicide.
"Social media...That's one of the hardest areas for schools to deal with," Glynn said. Glynn elaborated by telling the group about a 17-year-old boy who committed suicide and whose girlfriend was bullied after his death because students blamed her for his death because she broke up with the boy.
Participants in the discussion expressed concern over dedicating a yearbook page to a student, planting a tree in their honor or marking the death in another form. Glynn advised rather than erecting a specific monument to one student, that the school have a memorial garden for all students who have died.
"It's helpful to have a school policy that is proactive ahead of time approved by the school board," Glynn said.
Downey suggested hosting a fundraiser to support suicide prevention programs to prevent another death from affecting the school and community.
In addition to Downey, Glynn and Koob, the youth suicide prevention panel included Amber Larson, coordinator of crisis services for Stellher Human Services and Paula Lind, a school social worker.
Other sessions at the conference are on topics such as the legal rights of youth, safe harbor laws and resources for sexually exploited youth, criminal sexual conduct, homeless students rights, suicide prevention, youth self-injurious behavior, support for LGBTQ youth and youth eating disorders.
Suicide Prevention FYI
Here is a list of resources for suicide prevention:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK (8255)
Native American Youth Crisis Line
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Text "LIFE" to 61222
Pinterest: TXT4LIFE MN
Mobile Crisis Team
Beltrami County: (800) 422-0045
Clearwater and Hubbard Counties: (800) 422-0863
Lake of the Woods: (218) 434-0101 (adults); (218) 395-0177 (children)
Red Lake: (218) 679-3912
Evergreen Youth & Family Services
622 Mississippi Avenue
Bemidji, MN 56619
(218) 751-4332 or (218) 308-8002
Stellher Human Services
Mental Health Crisis Line (800) 422-0045
516 Beltrami Ave. NW
Bemidji, MN 56601
(218) 444-2845 (appointments)
Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center
722 15th Street NW
Bemidji, MN 56619
Community Resource Connections
Mental Health Resources
County Health and Human Services
Beltrami: (218) 333-4223
Cass: (218) 547-1340
Clearwater: (218) 694-6164
Hubbard: (218) 732-1451
Lake of the Woods: (218) 634-2642