Numbers growing in TXT4Life Suicide Prevention Program
Cromwell-Wright senior Emily Warpula has been actively involved in promoting the TXT4Life teen suicide prevention program in her school for the past year, but one night last fall served as a chilling reminder of what it's all about.
"A friend of mine was having a hard time, and I was really scared for her," related Warpula. "I told her about the TXT4Life number and suggested she text it in order to get some help. The next morning she told me she'd actually gone through with it and that the person on the other end was able to 'talk me down.' She thanked me for recommending it, and I felt really cool that I was able to help her."
Warpula's experience with her friend is being repeated with greater and greater frequency in recent months as the groundbreaking new program takes flight.
Since the grant was first awarded in August 2011, TXT4Life has been on the ground running with a comprehensive assortment of activities, according to regional contact Meghann Condit of Carlton County Health and Human Services. Essentially, the program picks up where suicide prevention phone lines leave off - meeting young people right where they're at when it comes to today's electronic communication.
Carlton 10th-grader Delilah Orlowski attests that teens are far more likely to ask for help with issues such as suicide if they can text rather than talk to someone on the other end of a phone line.
"If they can remain anonymous, they're more likely to ask for help and get the kind of information they need to help them," said Orlowski.
The growing usage numbers reported over the past year since the program was initiated in a seven-county area of northeastern Minnesota are proof positive that the concept is filling a critical need in today's young people.
According to Dave Lee, Carlton County Health and Human Services director, the text center has received some 300-350 texts a month from teens either considering suicide or having a hard time dealing with relationship issues, family issues, abuse, neglect or what he termed "a whole variety of mental health issues."
"Usage has grown exponentially and will continue to grow as people hear about this intervention service," attested Condit. "Over 18,000 of the 22,000 youth in grades 7-12 [in the seven-county area] have heard the message about TXT4Life. Presentations continue to be scheduled to reach the remaining 4,000 students."
Condit went on to say that a student who attended one of the presentations shared that he or she actually attempted suicide last spring and would never have called a number - but definitely would have texted.
When a young person texts the line for help, a professionally trained volunteer answers the text and participates in the ensuing conversation. Many of them are mental health counselors, social workers or school counselors, and all receive 50 hours of specialized training in order to participate in the program. Depending on the nature of the problem, the caller is often encouraged to seek out additional support in their school or community and talk with someone face to face about their issues.
Lee said it is a "kid-driven process," with students from each school asked to help identify trusted adults within the schools as additional support resources.
Over 800 referrals have been made for mental health or non-mental health services over the course of the past year through the TXT4Life program. Condit said although the initial emphasis of the program has been focused in northeast Minnesota, word of it has spread through social media and the line has received texts from youth and young adults in 49 of Minnesota's counties and all 50 states in the U.S.
"There aren't any that will be turned away," said Lee.
As an ongoing part of the program, trainings for suicide prevention and intervention are being given across the seven-county region of Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties. One hour QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) trainings as well as two day ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) trainings are being given to equip community members, school staff, mental health staff, etc., with skills needed to help someone in a suicidal crisis. Over 530 people have attended one or both of these trainings.
Students such as Warpula and Orlowski are among some 130 youth around the seven counties who have been groomed as student leaders in their schools to generate support and awareness of suicide prevention efforts. They have distributed posters and T-shirts with the TXT4Life information on them, as well as passing out bracelets inscribed with the TXT4Life number on them to students.
Orlowski said she's hoping that through her efforts and those of others, they will help get information out to students who need it and hopefully cut down on the teen suicide rate.
"I want to help other people and save lives," she stated.
"I'm hoping we can make a positive change," she said. "It's important that people realize what others are going through and start talking about it more."
Condit said as the grant progresses, the TXT4Life website (www.txt4life.org) will be built up to contain resources for students, parents, school staff and the community. In addition, TXT4Life staff are working on the sustainability of this service in order to make it an additional resource for suicide prevention in the entire state of Minnesota, alongside the long standing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255).
"Strong partnerships and support have been established at both the local and state levels," she said. "To know that TXT4Life could be accessed by students living in rural areas with limited access to mental health services and/or an extended wait time to see a therapist, makes it an extremely promising resource that can be a first step in prevention and intervention."
For more information on the program, contact Lee at 218-878-2844; Condit at 218-878-2846; or Donna Lekander at 218-878-2558.