Help for struggling or suicidal teens just a text away

For some teens, texting can be the center of their lives.

Now, it can also save their lives.

The Oregon Youthline gives teens who are hurting a chance to call, text or chat twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Teens can talk directly with someone their age every day from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

"This works, for sure. And you can see that it works," said Ted Acton, a 17-year-old Youthline volunteer. "It saves people's lives, all the time."

Acton is one of more than a dozen local teens who have gone through training and now answer phones and texts from the Youthline office in Southwest Portland for one or two shifts per week.

"We're trying to help people live better lives. And help people get from rock bottom to even like a step above that," said Acton. "We're trying to put people a little bit ahead of where they were before they talked to us."

Volunteer Katie Kehoe, age 18, said teens call in to talk about many issues, including bullying, abuse at home and eating disorders. Some are frustrated and need to talk, others are thinking about suicide.

"I was surprised that there's so many people that have to deal with so many really unpleasant and painful things in their lives. And that they feel like there's no other options and that they feel like they can't take it any more," said Kehoe. "It's surprising and it's a lot more people than you know."

"They're our neighbors and our friends and our schoolmates," she added.

The volunteers listen for signs that the teen contacting them may be on the edge.

"That could be things like, 'I can't take it any more.' Like, 'I'm so done with all of this. I have a plan. I know how I'm going to get out of this,'" said Kehoe.

Kehoe said the volunteers directly ask the caller if they are considering suicide. They assess the risk and help guide the teen to a safe place.

"Sometimes people who are dealing with suicide feel so hopeless and feel so alone that suicide is their only option," said Kehoe. "Maybe they talk to us for the first time and they realize, 'These are people I can express myself to and vent to
and they'll give me options and help me with options on how to stay safe and take care of myself.'"

The volunteers are surrounded by people who can help them.

"The whole room's here. You have two to three shift partners rooting for you and your shift supervisor ready to help you out if you need it," said Brennan Crombie, age 17.

Acton said the experience of working with Youthline has transformed him and other volunteers. They learn to listen in a non-judgmental, non-critical way, even when the teen contacting them is making poor life decisions.

"They know it's a bad decision. We know it's a bad decision. They don't need to be told over and over again that what they do is wrong. They need someone to talk to who isn't going to do that for them. And that's what we do," said Acton.

Several of the volunteers are leaving for college now, after a year with the Youthline.

"The ability to take a call and have somebody say, 'Thank you. I'm going to stay safe tonight because you talked to me,' or, like, 'You really, really helped me tonight.' That's just such an amazing experience to know that you saved somebody's life," said Kehoe.

"Nothing compares to this experience," said Acton. "This stuff changes your life."

The Youthline is directed toward Oregon kids, but teens anywhere can and do call.

The Oregon Youthline number is 877-968-8491, and people will answer the call twenty-four hours a day.

The teen volunteers will answer from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm every day.

You can also text "teen2teen" to 839863