Students in all four grades at BHS heard a presentation from Ashley Nieland, regional coordinator for the TXT4Life program in the St. Cloud area on Thursday morning in the Performing Arts Center. She spoke to the students about the technology available through the program, which provides a confidential text line for students who are experiencing emotional issues and who may not be comfortable talking with a counselor over the phone.
According to data provided by the Four County Crisis Team, of the 1,000 calls they receive each month, less than one per cent (fewer than 10) are from teens or young adults in the 12 to 24 age range. The statistics show that people in that demographic very much prefer the anonymity of a text-based help line. Nieland said her organization noted a spike in contacts once the on-line system was in place, from just over 400 in December to more than 800 in January.
In her presentation, Nieland said that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Major life changes, such as the death of a close relative, being the victim of bullying, moving into a new social environment and being the “new kid” at school and major relationship changes are all triggers that can lead to emotional health issues.
These can result in changes in behavior, such as aggression, changes in personal appearance and hygiene, lack of interest and depression. It is difficult to ask people direct questions about their state of mind, Nieland said, and equally difficult for people to confess to having suicidal thoughts or other mental problems through fear of being stigmatized by friends and classmates for even talking honestly about these issues.
Nieland also said that there should be no difference in dealing with mental problems as there are with physical illness. “If a friend was having an asthma attack, you wouldn’t just walk away, would you?” she asked.
The key is changing the way in which we think about issues of mental illness, she said, and really treating it like an illness.
TXT4LIFE is open from noon to 3 a.m. each day, and can be reached by texting LIFE to 61222 to reach the Suicide Prevention Hotline. The on-line conversation is confidential, and counselors would only break that promise if they were convinced that there was an immediate danger to the life of the caller or someone else. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number is 1 (800) 273-8255.
After the presentation, each student was given a wristband with the TXT4LIFE logo and contact number on it. Nieland was assisted by Chad Rhodes, also a staff member of the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center. The program was introduced by BHS Asst. Principal Mark Kolbinger.