You’re alone, you’re anxious, you know you need to talk to someone, but it’s 9pm at night and even if you had someone to talk to, maybe you’re just not ready for a face-to-face conversation about something that’s troubling you. What do you do? If you’re in Wyoming County, the answer is in the palm of your hand.W
The Textline for Emotional Wellness and Support, otherwise known as the Texting Helpline, operates seven days a week from 7pm to 10pm, even on holidays. One of four Spectrum Health counselors will respond immediately and engage with texters once, twice, or all night, as long as it takes to answer the texter’s questions or offer support. Carm, one of the counselors, calls this service the “extra spice and a little sugar at the end of the day to give people that extra support before they go to sleep.”
The counselor quartet agree: most people using this service may be 25 to 50 years old, with some outliers. Cindy texted with individuals as young as 17 and as senior as 82. She’s amazed with her experience as a texting counselor: “people can be so trusting to open up to a perfect stranger,” she says.
For Holli, it’s another way to support people in rural communities who still struggle with the mental health stigma. Isolation and depression are common themes. “Depression loves isolation,” Holli says. “These people are alone with their stressors and symptoms and being able to release them to someone who doesn’t know who they are and who is not their regular therapist helps.”
Perhaps it’s that shield of anonymity that prompts texters to be vulnerable and reach out. Shelby comments that texting is a unique way for people to connect and the process of texting encourages the texter to have control over when they ask for extra support. Holli encourages teens to text (“they text their friends all the time,” she acknowledges) but teens may be less comfortable reaching out to a ‘stranger’ for mental health support this way. The group agrees: as counselors, the key to a text exchange is patience. Someone may text to ask if a counselor is available and may not text again for 20 minutes. Carm commented, “They need to know you care, even when they think the world does not.”
Counselors know that texting isn’t the same as a traditional counseling appointment. Holli said her first instinct is to “assess everything and get all the services we can in place.” She realized, though, that active listening and reflection is more helpful that trying to overload a texter with too many things at once. Shelby agrees that the exchange between texters will be very different from a traditional appointment.
Bottom line, Spectrum Health’s Texting Helpline may be comforting for someone who just needs to know that there’s someone out there willing to reply with positive words of support and guidance. Is this you? The Helping Textline is open everyday from 7pm to 10pm: text 585- 543-1015. There’s a skilled professional counselor there, waiting to help.
The initiative is funded by a grant from the William H. Thiel Trust of the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. For more than a century, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo has enhanced and encouraged long-term philanthropy in the Western New York community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the Community Foundation’s mission is: Connecting people, ideas, and resources to improve lives in Western New York. Established in 1919, the Community Foundation has made the most of the generosity of individuals, families, foundations, and organizations who entrust charitable assets to the Community Foundation’s care. Learn more at cfgb.org.