Reaching Out to Help OverText and Chat Over the last five years, LaVondra Dobbs and her team at VIA LINK began to notice a dramatic decline in phone calls from youth ages 12 to 22, even on their crisis lines. “We knew that teenagers have more crisis events [than other age groups],”says Dobbs, CEO of VIA LINK.“They just were not seeking help.” Nonprofit agency VIA LINK provides information, referrals and training to people, organizations and communities. Part of VIA LINK’s work is answering crisis calls through 211, the national help and information line. Connecting onTeens’ Terms According to Dobbs, university studies reveal that only 5% of teens are willing to pick up the phone and call for help when they’re feeling emotional distress. However, if counseling were available by text, they would use it. Knowing that she could get an immediate response from her own two sons by texting, Dobbs wondered: Would teens really text for help when they felt overwhelmed? The answer was a resounding yes. After a soft launch in 2015, the Crisis Teen Textline generated 38,721 text conversations in fiscal year 2016-17. The first text came from a 15-year-old girl in St. Tammany Parish who had been given a flyer by a friend Above, L to R: Victoria Schwandt, Contact Center Director; Derrick Hudson, Contact Center Specialist; LaVondra H. Dobbs, CEO; Rachel Brown, Contact Center Specialist; Clifton Harris, HMIS Director of her mother’s, Dobbs recalls. Her father had committed suicide and she struggled with depression. Dobbs says the girl continues to reach out via text when things are difficult. “Texting us is a safe, confidential way for teens to talk about their problems,”adds Dobbs. Counselors“listen”to youth “After Katrina, 80% of our mental health professionals left this area. We found some ways to bridge that gap.” — LaVondra Dobbs CEO of VIA LINK and guide them in decision-making, all via texting. VIA LINK captures the cell phone number and zip code of each incoming text, allowing the agency to geo-locate the youth if emergency intervention is needed. VIA LINK Transom Grant in Health 10