New DuPage text line offers help for teens in crisis

Walking into a school guidance counselor's office sometimes comes with a risk for students struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse - the risk of being spotted by peers.

That risk goes away when help is available through the top mode of communication for teens, a method that also happens to be private and socially acceptable: texting.

Students needing help in Naperville and DuPage County now can text "reach" to 741741 to hear back by text within minutes from a trained volunteer who can help with crisis de-escalation, offer problem-solving advice, dispatch emergency responders if needed and provide connections to a database for further resources.

The Crisis Text Line is available through a partnership the Naperville Police Department formed with the text line, established in 2015 by CEO Nancy Lublin.

The national line is available from anywhere, at any time, for free. But the partnership Naperville formed will allow local experts to track statistics on how many people text the line and why they need help.

As the region struggles with an opioid problem that continues to take hundreds of lives each year, and as students grapple with the perceived pressure to succeed at all costs, experts say the text line is a welcome resource.

"Texting is a very discreet way to have a conversation to share what's going on inside," said Eirene Leventis, a social worker with the Naperville Police Department, who established the new partnership.

Prevention experts across DuPage County also have been talking with LEAD, a Lake Forest-based prevention coalition whose name stands for Linking Efforts Against Drugs. LEAD has been offering a Text-A-Tip service since 2014 in Lake County and since 2015 in McHenry County that provides similar assistance to the Crisis Text Line - with a local twist.

Andy Duran of LEAD said Text-A-Tip is available 24/7, staffed by local, licensed mental health professionals. The line often helps teens dealing with bullying, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts. Within the past four months in Lake County alone, he said the line has received 10,000 texts.

"Every student doesn't reach out for help," Duran said. "And there are a lot of students struggling."

Students can text the line without it looking like they're doing anything different from text-chatting with a friend. And they can get a response within minutes.

"The immediacy is very, very important for them," Duran said.

If DuPage County wants to use the Text-A-Tip service, it would need to pay and likely help establish a nearby network of mental health professionals to return the texts, said Jordan Esser, community initiatives coordinator.

With students confronting issues of depression, eating disorders, unhealthy relationships and stress about grades, Esser said it's important to make seeking help as smooth and stigma-free as possible.

"They're more comfortable texting," she said.

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