New technology targeted at helping a younger generation reach out for help and support is now available across Michigan.
Instant messaging and texting, a typical way teenagers communicate, is now available as a crisis intervention tool at Common Ground, a 24-hour nonprofit agency that provides programs and services to families and youths in crisis.
Depression, stress, thoughts of suicide and bullying are just a few of the issues that Common Ground deals with on their new chat line according to volunteer and 2007 Hartland High alumni, Jenny Cummings. Using a teenager's preferred method of communication such as instant messaging is the perfect way to reach out to the next generation of teens, according to Cummings.
“That’s how they communicate,” Cummings said. “Teenagers don’t use the phone anymore, they text or they instant message and that’s what they’re comfortable with.”
One of the first organizations in southeastern Michigan to start using the technology, Jen James, the crisis line supervisor and crisis chat coordinator of Common Ground says the organization wanted to make sure they had the new features available for the upcoming summer months.
“We’ve been trying to put it out to the schools and various locations that they would see it,” James said. “Once summer’s out, there may be a little bit more need."
The new anonymous, online emotional support chat is available every day from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and texting, to number 248-809-5550, will start July 2. Volunteers such as Cummings will be behind their computers, responding and chatting back.
Although the chat line is only a little over a month old, Cummings says she has already noticed an increase in the number of teens using the new technology.
“We deal with more youth issues on the chat line,” she said. “Things like bullying whereas on the phone line, the older generations tend to call.”
The “straightforward” messages typed over the computer can be “heartbreaking,” when they describe instances of bullying, but Cummings says that just giving the kids a comfortable space to vent is helpful.
The instant messaging over a computer also adds another layer of anonymous protection, according to Cummings, who says kids may feel safer writing down their thoughts rather than talking and risk being overheard by parents or roommates.
“I know how personally, having something like this would have been great because there were times I thought about calling a crisis line, but I was just too scared to pick up the phone,” she said.
Cummings, who will be attending Wayne State in the fall where she will start working on her Masters degree in social work, hopes to eventually work in a school setting.
She says she was excited to start using the new technology in her volunteer work as a way to learn how to connect and communicate with the younger kids. Learning to properly communicate through chat using only words at such a rapid pace was an adjustment, but Cummings says that for her strong writing skills and her ability to sense people's emotions helps her work with the hard issues that are discussed by her chat line users.
"Writing is one of my strongsuits," she said. "It think that’s a very comfortable medium for me to pick up on people’s emotions and I think of myself as an empathic person."
According to James, approximately 95 percent of all teens use texting or instant messaging on a regular basis and Cummings says the new options are a simple way to help and also just makes sense. She is also hoping more teenagers will take advantage of the new resource.
“It takes an incredible amount of bravery to reach out,” Cummings said. "Reaching out to the chat line is really, a lot of the times, the first step kids take and they find out that they're not crazy and it's normal to feel these things."