In Los Angeles, a Crisis Hotline by Youth, for Youth

In Los Angeles, a Crisis Hotline by Youth, for Youth (Photo: Motortion/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This essay is about suicide, which may be difficult for some readers.

Sometimes, using our phones to talk to someone — rather than text or drop into the TikTok vortex — is what we need, especially when we’re struggling.

Teen Line is a free peer counseling service for young people facing a variety of issues, including bullying, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts. The organization has found teens can be more willing to turn to peers than adults for support.

The teen volunteers don’t give advice. Instead, they chat with callers and help them explore options for help. And as the nation’s suicide rates increase among teens, so, says Teen Line, have the nightly requests.

YR Media spoke with Cheryl Eskin, program director at Teen Line, about how the confidential crisis intervention works.

How did Teen Line get started?

We started as a peer hotline where teens could call and talk to another trained teen about anything that was going on with them. We’ve evolved with time and technology and now have text, e-mail, a message board and an app. We have all kinds of different ways to reach us now.

But what stays the same is the concept of teens helping teens. We are open every night, from 6 – 10 pm PST, basically 361 days a year. We are closed for a few of the major holidays. After hours, we roll to the 24/7 suicide prevention line in our local area.

How are teens trained to handle the calls they receive?

We train about 65 teens in the greater L.A. area every year to be what we call listeners on the phone. Each training is 65 hours, and they have to commit to coming into all the trainings. So it’s a huge commitment, but they actually love training. It becomes a lot like group therapy in some ways. During that time, they also do 15 practice role-plays, which mock calls or texts about a specific subject.

We have adult supervisors who are there with the teens every night just to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Teen Line’s Leah Totsubo, Daniella Ivanir and Kimia Azad address youth suicide at the Teen Line’s Food for Thought Brunch. (Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images)

What are some common reasons that teens call the hotline?

Our most common contact is [about] relationships, because everything really is a relationship. Whether it’s romantic, friend, parents or teachers. Number two is anxiety/stress, which has really changed in the last couple of years and I think that just is telling of what pressure our kids are under.

Number three is depression and four is suicide. And when we say suicide, it could be from someone who is thinking about suicide but doesn’t have a concrete plan to someone who’s ready to do it or has already taken steps to end their life. We also get calls about bullying, self-injury and loneliness.

Nationally, suicide rates have increased among teenagers and young adults. What do you think are some of the contributing factors?

I think for teens it’s a lot of things and not just one reason. Everything is just harder and there’s more at stake and more pressure on everything. Getting into college is a lot harder and tuition is a lot more expensive. The pressure is a lot more in high school as well.

Social media can be amazing, but I think it can also be really detrimental and not just social. We’re also constantly on our phones and I think we’ve lost some of the human connection.

How effective is the peer-to-peer concept?

There is something about talking to someone who gets it, who knows your little lingo on text or just can say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m in high school, too.’ I think just the cultural references are the same. It’s not uncommon for a call that’s been really heavy to start talking about the music they both like or their favorite Netflix shows. It’s also just less intimidating to talk to a peer than an adult.

To our knowledge, we’ve never had someone die by suicide after talking to us. I think our teens are really good at de-escalating the crisis of people calling us who are really upset. It doesn’t mean that the next night, that they’re not struggling, but hopefully, we’ve started the conversation and gotten them to maybe get help in their own lives.

NOTE: Teen Line is open from 6- 10 pm (PST) every night at 310-855-4673 or text “TEEN” to 839863.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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