• 77°

Help is only one text away: VIA LINK 2-1-1 keeps youth safe with Crisis Teen Textline

LAPLACE — Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24, according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Teens who struggle with mental illness, feelings of isolation or stressful life changes may feel the odds stacked against them are insurmountable. Thankfully, there are resources just a phone call or a text message away to connect River Parishes youth to trained specialists.

Established in 2015, the VIA LINK Crisis Teen Textline services youth ages 13 to 22 who are going through emotional distress. Specialists provide emotional support and necessary resources to divert young people away from suicide.

2-1-1 is the designated phone number for health and human services, as designated by the Federal Communications Commission. VIA LINK is the 2-1-1 nonprofit agency serving St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, Orleans, St. Bernard, Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parishes.

2-1-1 calls from St. James Parish connect to the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center.

Artis Williams, director of St. John United Way, said VIA LINK has been a long-term partner agency for referrals that range from housing to storm relief.

“We partner with via link for disaster relief, things having to do with crisis management and suicide prevention,” Williams said. “Suicide prevention is a really big piece because they are there 24/7, 365 days a year.”

Williams said VIA LINK’s multi-parish scope makes it an effective resource.

“If we don’t have a direct answer for clients on how we can help them, we refer them to VIA LINK,” Williams said. “They provide information on all the services we provide in St. John the Baptist Parish, and they provide information on other services as well that we do not currently provide.”

Based in New Orleans, VIA LINK is an easily accessible resource for people of all ages in need of food, shelter, health care, financial assistance, substance abuse treatment and more. Last year, 56,843 people called VIA LINK.

The Crisis Teen Textline can be reached 24/7 at 504-777-3273.

When the textline was first made available, VIA LINK contact center director Victoria Schwandt told L’OBSERVATEUR crisis counseling involves giving a person in distress a safe place to talk about suicide. Giving a listening ear to the struggles the individual faces opens a door to talk about resources and form a safety plan.

She said young people are more likely to reach out by text than by phone.

“There is more of a sense of anonymity by reaching out via text,” she said.

Mental health conditions, substance abuse or addiction and chronic health conditions involving pain are among the risk factors that may contribute to suicidal thoughts, according to VIA LINK specialists.

Risk factors can also include exposure to another person’s suicide, access to firearms and drugs, bullying or harassment, relationship problems, unemployment or other stressful life events. Childhood abuse, previous suicide attempts and family history of suicide or mental illness are also considered risk factors.

Suicidal warning signs can include mood swings, depression, anxiety, increased anger or feelings of guilt and shame.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, warning signs can include mood swings, depression, anxiety, increased anger, and feelings of guilt and shame. Someone contemplating suicide may talk of feeling hopeless or being a burden to others.

These warning signs may come in the form of withdrawal, changes in work or school performance or impulsive behaviors. Alternatively, an individual on the verge of a suicide attempt may suddenly appear cheerful after a period of depression.

Please see vialink.org/suicide-prevention.php for more words or euphemisms to be on the lookout for.

VIA LINK reminds the public that asking someone directly if they are considering suicide, although uncomfortable, could help save a life.

Volunteer opportunities are available to college students and adults at least 19 years old. According to VIA LINK, there is a particular need for volunteers who come from helping professions such as mental health counseling, social work, psychology and psychiatry.

Volunteer specialist training is offered three times per year at no charge.

For more information, see vialink.org/how-to-help.php.

To get help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is also open to those concerned for someone else who may be considering suicide.

A chat service is offered online 24/7 at suicidepreventionlifeline.org, and the Crisis Teen Textline can be reached 24/7 at 504-777-3273.

VIA LINK also offers a free weekly support group for people that have lost a loved one to suicide. The clinically overseen support group meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. every Thursday at Grief Recovery Center in Baton Rouge. For more information, call 504-708-2937.