NMC Commentary

Is There a New Way to Get Help for a Mental Health Crisis?

Yes! Vermont’s Department of Mental Health recently announced that “Vermonters who are experiencing a mental health crisis now have a new way to find support when and where they need it, 24 hours a day.  Crisis Text Line™ provides free (for Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile carriers; all other carriers may charge rates), round-the-clock support, seven days a week by providing access via text messaging to trained Crisis Counselors at the moment help and support are needed.”  This is a wonderful step forward to provide access to mental health support in a creative new way.  Given that mental health ranks as one of the top pressing priorities in our community health needs assessment, I am pleased to use this column space to help amplify the announcement of this new resource.  Here is what the materials from the Department of Mental Health say about the new Crisis Text Line service:

“This service is being provided through a partnership between the Vermont Department of Mental Health and the national organization Crisis Text Line. State officials welcomed this key addition to the other mental health services available for Vermonters to access when circumstances or events become difficult to handle.”

“ ’Our mission is to ensure Vermonters have access to effective and meaningful mental health support services,’ said Dr. J Batra, Medical Director at the Vermont Department of Mental Health. ‘Crisis Text Line will help make a difference for people to get support in the moment, especially for those individuals who may feel more comfortable sharing difficult thoughts and feelings through text messaging. This is an important complement and gateway to the state’s mental health services, such as face-to-face crisis response at Vermont’s community mental health centers.’”

Here’s “how Crisis Text Line™ works. The person in crisis or needing support sends a text with the letters “VT” to 74174.  Within 5 minutes the person in crisis or needing support will get an automated text and then a response from a trained Crisis Counselor through a secure platform. The counselor will stay in text communication until the crisis is abated and there is a plan for next steps. If there is immediate danger, the counselor can work with local resources to get supports to the person in crisis. The counselors are not therapists, but they are trained to help with active listening that is empathetic, understanding and respectful.”

“Some of the features of the Vermont Crisis Text Line: No-cost, 24/7 access to trained Crisis Counselors with clinical supervision; Five-minute response time; Crisis Text Line is a secure service. No private information is shared, and will not show up on cell phone bill.”

“ ‘We’re excited at the promise of this tool to help people when they are feeling overwhelmed,’ said Dr. Batra. ‘We look forward to incorporating it into our ongoing efforts to support and help everyone who needs support or assistance.’ ”

“To learn more about Crisis Text Line and the services they provide, visit www.crisistextline.org. For mental health information, services and resources in Vermont, visit mentalhealth.vermont.gov.”

I think it is also important to reiterate this item from the ‘frequently asked questions’ that have been developed to go along with the Crisis Text Line.  “Q: What’s the difference between Crisis Text Line and therapy? A: Crisis Text Line is not a replacement for therapy. Therapy includes a diagnosis made by a licensed professional, a treatment plan of action, and a patient/therapist relationship. Crisis Text Line helps people in moments of crisis. Our crisis counselors practice active listening to help our texters find calm and create an action plan for themselves to continue to feel better. Crisis Text Line’s crisis counselors are not therapists.”

We are fortunate to have strong mental health care partners in our community, including Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, private counselors, and others.  This new Crisis Text Line is a promising new option for individuals to access support and care.  Please take a moment to visit the website at www.crisistextline.org to learn more about this new resource.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC Chief Executive Officer