Vt. mental health officials reach out to youth in need of help

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's Mental Health Department is using a texting hotline in hopes of reaching a younger generation in need of finding help for anxiety, stress and depression.

About 16 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2016. That's about 7 percent of the adult population.

It's no surprise that some of the people struggling are right here in our region. That's why Vermont's Mental Health Department is working on ways to address the isolation and depression by pointing out a new texting hotline for those that need help.

All callers have to do is text VT to 741741. It's part of a national texting hotline open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On the other end is a trained volunteer to help callers overcome obstacles.

"We have a youth population that's struggling with some pretty stressful times," Vt. Mental Health Commissioner Melissa Bailey said.

To help young adults through those stressful times, the crisis hotline is being promoted at colleges and schools.

Mental health officials say texting that number can be a good starting point for people facing personal challenges.

"What we are finding out is that they are texting primarily about relationships, stress, anxiety, depression," Bailey said.

But she's not just talking about teenage issues. Bailey says Vermont's aging population also seems to be struggling with feelings of isolation. That's why the department is exploring new ways to reach out, like text messages.

"I think that's a really important thing in Vermont, given that we are a rural state, that we figure out ways to get people connected to other people so they don't feel so lonely and isolated," Bailey said.

Since department officials started collecting data from the national hotline, they found people are using the hotline. Since November of 2016, they received 1,300 text messages from 700 different numbers. Of those conversations, 20 of them resulted in some kind of intervention. The data doesn't say who is texting the number for help.

"People aren't necessarily disclosing gender or age or anything to that extent," Bailey said.

What young adults are saying is that they prefer to text.

"A woman did a TED talk and heard from some adolescents about their desire to text people when they were feeling under stress or in a crisis," Bailey said.

Now, trained volunteers with access to police and other resources are the ones on the other side of those text messages. If they feel a health professional needs to intervene, they also have access to those people and are able to transfer you to those resources.

The goal of the texting hotline is to reduce stress among those who use it and encourage them to make healthy decisions. There are a few questions that will be asked concerning the caller's safety, feelings, social situation and risk of suicide. If a chat counselor feels the caller is in danger they will work to create a safety plan.

Officials want to remind the public that the hotline is not just for suicidal thoughts, but can be used by those who are feeling sad, depressed or anxious.