Helplines provide anonymous support for those struggling

Jack Kopanski

Since September 2013, there have been 33,332,285 texts into the national Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Texts about anxiety, depression, family issues, self-harming, and suicide are answered any time of day by a volunteer crisis counselor, at no charge to the texter.

“We move people from a hot moment, to a cool calm,” said Kent State senior Madeline Williamson, who has been a volunteer with the Crisis Text Line since last July. “Whatever it is, we support them until they’re feeling like they can handle it.”

Williamson emphasized there is no set guideline for what constitutes a crisis in the eyes of the counselors. If someone texts in with a problem, it is treated as a crisis.

“We don’t judge whether someone’s experience is a crisis or not,” said Liz Eddy, director of communications with Crisis Text Line. “Everyone experiences life differently. If we can help work through an issue before it becomes something bigger, we see that as a wonderful thing.”

Becoming a volunteer like Williamson is something that anybody can do by going through the application process at If accepted, volunteers then go through the 34-hour-long online training.

Volunteers learn how to handle certain types of crisis situations. Toward the end of training, they play roles in mock situations they might encounter. Once someone completes their training to become a counselor, that does not mean they are done learning.

“The training continues forever,” said Paul Dages, emergency services coordinator for Townhall II in Kent. “Once you’re answering the line, you’re still being trained, you’re just doing it while you’re answering the line.”

Townhall II, known mainly for its substance abuse and addiction services in Portage County, instituted its 24/7 crisis helpline in 1971, four years after Townhall II was founded. Its helpline is almost identical to the Crisis Text Line in terms of how training is handled and the types of calls it receives, except Townhall II’s service is phone-call based, rather than text-based.

You can reach Townhall II’s crisis helpline by calling (330) 678-HELP (4357), and the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741, with both services available 24/7.

The key to both services though, is that any user can remain completely anonymous.

“I don’t really ask anything, unless it was pertinent,” Williamson said. “When [a text] pops up, I’ll usually say, ‘Hi, my name’s Maddie, I’m here to listen. Would you be comfortable sharing your name with me?’ Just so I have something to call them. It makes it a little more personal. If they don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.”

Williamson said if the person in the crisis doesn’t wish to share their name, it is still important to make them feel comfortable.

“I think it’s really good because people can be as anonymous as they want to be,” Williamson said. “That often lets them open up about things they wouldn’t tell anybody else. I’ve had texters tell me that they’ve told me things they haven’t even mentioned to their therapist before.”

Both helplines serve as a jumping-off point for those in a crisis to find a more stable, professional source of help.

“The helpline is the paramedic of the emotions,” Dages said. “With a paramedic, sometimes they come out and that’s all the person needs. Sometimes, they come out and they need to get the patient to more specialized services to help that person. That’s basically what we do too.

“If somebody has an issue, they don’t call a paramedic three times a day or three times every week, because that’s not what a paramedics’ for,” Dages continued. “We try to, with every caller, make sure that there is some kind of plan made by every caller in terms of what the caller is going to do to get hooked into the services that will better help the caller with what’s going on.”

Williamson also talks about reiterating the importance of the user having a plan moving forward, and how they plan on implementing that plan.

“We don’t want to create a dependency on us,” Williamson said. “You remind them about their action plan and some of the things we talked about, and kind of warmly, but firmly, send them off.”

Another important aspect that these helplines provide is their ability to put users who are in immediate danger in contact with emergency services.

“We call this an active rescue,” Eddy said. “Volunteers continue talking to the texter while our supervision team – made up of mental health professionals and full-time Crisis Text Line employees – contact local paramedics.”

According to Eddy, approximately 75 percent of Crisis Text Line users are under the age of 25. For Townhall II’s helpline, Dages says approximately 70 percent of the callers are female, with the highest number of calls coming from those in their 30s.

In a time where 42.5 million American adults every year suffer from mental illness, resources like these provide a free and convenient means for people to get in touch with someone when there is no one else to talk to.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a student media project entitled “The Silent Struggle.” See the whole project here

Editor’s note: The original number given for the Townhall II helpline was the office phone number. The number has since been appropriately changed.

Jack Kopanski is an assigning editor. Contact him at [email protected].