This essay is part of an occasional series provided by our partner organization Encore.org, which created the Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) campaign – inviting those in midlife and beyond to connect with kids who need champions.
I am very proud to be a volunteer crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line, which is a free, 24/7 hotline, all via text message. Since most of the texters who reach out to us are under the age of 25, this activity provides me with the chance to interact with the younger generation and connect with them in a compassionate way. I am also the children’s ministry leader within my church. The two roles seem to intertwine, as I love being around children and helping them be the best they can possibly be.
This is also an incredible volunteer activity I could do from my tiny town (pop. 943) in Montana. The work is all done from my computer. Crisis counselors graduate from a six-week, 34-hour training program that includes video modules covering good contact techniques and issues such as self-harm, suicide, depression, bullying, and gender/sexual identity. I felt fully prepared before I began.
As a child, I suffered in silence with an anxiety/panic disorder. Back in the 1960s, doctors didn’t have a term for what I was going through. My parents didn’t understand it and looked at it as a discipline problem. Thankfully, as we progressed in understanding mental health issues, anxiety was brought to light. So now my feelings are, if I can reach out to one texter and tell that person, “I get it,” then the texter will understand it will be OK. Because of the training I received, I can give texters the tools they need to get some help. (And when appropriate, crisis counselors make referrals.)
My favorite thing about being a crisis counselor, oddly enough, is the active rescues – when people express ideation or plans within the next 24 hours to hurt themselves or someone else, and we send emergency services to do a safety check. The moment a texter tells me, “they’re here” – that’s when I realize I helped someone get the help he or she needs. For me, it’s not only about saving lives; it’s also about letting these individuals know that people care.
There is a phrase I tell my texters all the time: “You matter.” It is surprising that so many respond with, “Wow, I have never heard that before!” Those two words assure my texters that they are going to be OK and they are meant to be in this world. All the pain and anxiety, the negative thoughts – they don’t matter. The texters do.
When they open up to me and let me know they’re really listening to my words, it brings me a comforting feeling. I think, in a way, it is also healing to the little girl in me who struggled with unknown fear and anxiety for so many years. Being able to identify a piece of myself within a texter’s words helps me to help the person see that these feelings have a name and he or she doesn’t always have to feel this way.
I think I am a much better and healthier person since becoming a crisis counselor. The training and my compassion have merged, and I am able to let someone know that, in the end, it is all going to be OK.
• For more, visit crisistextline.org.