A crisis line that allows those in need to reach out to a clinician through text messages will be available soon from the Community Care Network — Rutland Mental Health as a way to engage with young people early and get them the support they need.

Loree Zeif, director of emergency services, said the crisis text line will be for anyone who needs support during a mental health emergency, but may appeal most to younger people who are already most comfortable communicating by text.

“The idea is to initially engage people who might be reticent to pick up a phone,” she said.

Zeif said the new program indirectly owes its existence to the pandemic. She said when her adult children were home because of COVID, they asked her why she thought young people like them would “phone into a crisis line if they were not doing well.”

“As my son put it, ‘If a restaurant option for takeout allows you to order online, that’s the one we’re going to order from.’ It’s a different sensibility for young adults than for older adults that are more accustomed to using the phone regularly,” Zeif said.

The Community Care Network (CCN) already offers a crisis line for voice calls, but Zeif said those calls often go to an answering service that connects a caller with a clinician within five minutes. The text line will be monitored directly by staff.

“We always are juggling the fact that we may be managing more than one crisis at a time, but it should be a pretty quick response time,” she said.

While Zeif said there is an expectation that the people who gravitate to the text crisis line are younger adults or adolescents, the line, which is expected to begin operation early in 2022, will be available to anyone who needs it.

But Zeif said she also expects the text line will serve as another way for people to reach out when in crisis before potentially getting some guidance toward a more direct relationship with mental health professionals who can help.

“We don’t see it as a long texting relationship, we see it as the texting allowing a clinician to make a connection with the client and then parlaying that into phone, telehealth or in-person (treatment) ideally,” she said.

Just as with voice calls, one of the clinicians earliest goals will be to evaluate the caller to determine if the client is in imminent risk to themselves or others and needs to get to the hospital.

“If they’re getting that sense, they’re pretty quickly saying, ‘Can I call you an ambulance? How can we get you to the hospital? We’re worried about you.’ Then we’ll go and see them in the (emergency department),” Zeif said.

If the texter seems to be in crisis but not at immediate risk, that person may be invited to the CCN offices or, more likely, asked to allow one of the clinicians to visit so the clinician can help the person access the next appropriate steps.

“I can fully imagine a young person expressing distress in a text and a clinician never having to talk to them on the phone but saying, ‘Can I call you an ambulance? Can you give me your address? I can meet you at the hospital.’ and that being more comfortable to a young person than being on a phone,” Zeif said.

Finding ways to “meet people where they’re at” is something Zeif described as an “ongoing challenge.”

“It’s just constantly thinking outside the box of how do we do this better, how do we connect with people in different ways,” she said.

The text line is being supported by a grant of $10,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

Zeif said it was a relatively modest funding need because clinicians already have smart phones that can support a texting application that will support the crisis text line.

While Zeif said she didn’t know the details of how the crisis text line would be made available once it’s up and running, she expected it would be accessible from the organization’s website — rmhsccn.org — online.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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