Suicide Hotline Expands Reach To Teens Through Text Messaging

WESTFIELD – The numbers are scary. Since introducing a texting service in late March, the suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline CONTACT We Care has received more than 500 texts from people in distress, the majority coming from teenagers, the nonprofit reported last week.

Texters reach the hotline by texting “CWC” to 839863 Monday, Wednesday or Friday 4:00-10:00 p.m. All texts are anonymous and confidential.

This significant use of the texting service followed CONTACT’s promotion of the option in three Union County schools as part of its roll out of the program, as well as through general publicity, according to Joanne Oppelt, the agency’s executive director. In 2013 CONTACT plans to add up to four additional schools in an effort to make more teenagers aware of the service.

There are other frightening numbers driving that expansion. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 15-24, the fourth leading cause of death for youth aged 10-14 and the second leading cause of death among college students, Oppelt said.

Each year approximately 5,000 young people aged 10-24 commit suicide, according to national statistics. In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health believes as many as 25 suicides are attempted for each one that is completed. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19.3 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide and 14.5 percent have made plans to kill themselves.

Causes for teen suicide include: stress over school; feelings of being misunderstood by parents or teachers; struggles with friendships or romantic relationships; social isolation; low self-esteem; developmental issues; recent loss; bullying; eating disorders; and mental disorders.

“Add to that list the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., and the rising level of violence young people are being exposed to,” Oppelt said. “Being a teenager in the 21st century can bring untold pressures, angst and disappointment. Yet this age also gives us technology we’ve never had before and that technology gives these young people in crisis one more important avenue for getting help, and one they are comfortable with.”

More than 60 percent of teenagers prefer texting to other forms of communication, according to the Pew Internet Research Center. Seventy-five percent of teenagers text and the average American teen sends more than 60 texts each day, with older teenage girls averaging 100, Pew revealed.

After introducing texting in late March CONTACT worked with Cranford, Roselle Park and Scotch Plains high schools to promote the service and raise awareness of options for teenagers in distress within those schools. Promotion included posters, take-home cards, presentations and morning broadcasts and emails to parents.

Materials featured messages such as “RU hrtn?,” “UR not alone” and “I was too scared to tell my friends. My parents would never understand. It seemed too horrible for words. Then I texted about it I got answers.”

In 2013 CONTACT hopes to begin similar promotional campaigns in Westfield, Union County College, Summit and Elizabeth, according to Oppelt.

CONTACT We Care is staffed by more than 100 listeners and text consultants who are trained to be empathetic and help callers and texters come to their own conclusions that they have options and that, if they are feeling suicidal, taking their life is not the answer. CONTACT handles more than 12,000 calls and texts each year.

CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach CONTACT by dialing 908-232-2880 or texting “CWC” to 839863.

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