Crisis Hotline Volunteers Make a Difference, and so Can You

Gen Z volunteer Alex Antenen talks about how she became involved in response to the U.S. mental illness crisis.

05.15.24
Crisis Hotline Volunteers Make a Difference, and so Can You

OaklandTo put it bluntly, economic and political chaos have created a severe mental illness crisis in the United States. So many are suffering and their mental health struggle  — mood, anxiety, personality, and psychotic disorders — has heavily impaired an individual’s quality of life. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 58 million Americans were reported living with a mental illness. And, with the cost of specialized therapy increasing, many aren’t able to receive preventative help before their mental health becomes a severe concern. 

The good news is that mental health wellness has become more recognized and free treatment options are becoming accessible. Crisis Text Line, a mental health support and crisis intervention organization, is one of those places people can reach out to 24/7. Just text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, and a Crisis Text Line volunteer counselor will respond. Trained volunteers help people deal with their emotions, assist in developing coping skills, and take preventative action. 

Second-year UCLA student Alex Antenen, who hopes to become a psychiatrist, spoke to YR Media about what it takes to be a volunteer text counselor and what kinds of help the Crisis Text Line offers. In the past, Antenen needed to reach out to the text line and now was available to chat with people who just needed their voice to be heard.

YR Media:  What sparked your interest in becoming a crisis counselor? 

Alex Antenen: I did a lot of service in high school and in my community. I was definitely looking to continue doing work in college, but I wanted something flexible. I actually used the Crisis Text Line in high school, and I'd finally reached the age that I could start the training to be a counselor. It just seemed like a good fit. 

YR: That seems like a really full-circle experience to receive the services and then be able to provide them. How does it feel to support clients who are in such a vulnerable place?

AA: We kind of stray away from the idea of crisis because even if you're just stressed out about an assignment, you can definitely text. I definitely want everyone to know that you don't have to be in some huge crisis to feel like you can text in. You're never bothering us. We want to help you. We want to listen. 

YR: Do you think that people are more often in a severe crisis when they reach out? Or is it usually preventative help they seek?

AA: I feel like we have people in different stages of crisis. I would say the vast majority of our conversations are just like ‘I'm stressed out and I need a space to feel heard.’

YR: How has your work as a volunteer impacted your overall understanding of college students’ mental health in this country? 

AA: I think that students are the biggest population that we end up talking to. There's so much pressure on performance. With college students, we're realizing big world events that are going on. People are suffering all over the world and that can bring up a lot of emotions too. 

YR: What coping skills would you generally suggest that college students implement in their day to day lives? 

AA: Mindfulness exercises can be really helpful. You've probably heard of counting down from 10 slowly to center yourself. Another one I really like is checking in with your five senses. What are some things that I can see, feel, taste, hear? That can really help, especially for panic attacks.

YR: Thank you for sharing! So what kind of person do you think it takes to handle the responsibility of being a crisis counselor? 

AA: If you're very easily triggered, it's not a great point for you to start. But I think the most important thing is just being someone who can zero in on listening to somebody. Not giving advice, but just giving somebody a space to talk. 

YR: On a final note, I am curious to know what motivates you to continue volunteering. 

AA: Having people who are trained listeners, but who can also give good suggestions of other resources is really helpful. I really appreciate the volunteers who were there for me to really listen. So, I think it's kind of my duty to pay it back in a lot of ways.

YR: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for making time to meet with me today! 

AA: Thank you! I really appreciate it. 

Ivelisse Díaz (she/they), is a college student studying psychology from Oakland, California.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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