King County youth navigate mental health together at Teen Link
Every new school year brings with it some of the same anxieties for both students and their parents — although there may be some new stressors this year.
After two years of remote or hybrid learning during the pandemic, many students are now heading back to classrooms.
So, how are youth feeling about it all?
"The people that are closest to the problems are closest to the solutions," said Vera Abariy, the youth services manager at Teen Link.
Teen Link is a crisis network for youth in King County that connects them with peer youth crisis specialists between 15 and 20 years old.
"Let's face it: They don't want to talk to us [grownups]," Abariy said. "We preach. A lot of times, the things we talk about, they seem either irrelevant or [unrelatable]... Talking to another teen, they're just as close to the same kinds of problems. So they feel like they can trust them more."
Teen Link is a confidential resource.
However, like the national 988 crisis hotline, Teen Link is required by law to report some cases to law enforcement officials; cases involving abuse of a minor, for example, or someone who may cause harm to themselves or others are reported.
Abariy says most of the calls or chats that come into Teen Link fall into a few big buckets: substance use, family issues, LGBTQ issues and suicidal ideation.
Youth can call Teen Link at 1-866-833-6546 from 6 to 10 p.m. You can also text that number or chat with a specialist at teenlink.org from 6 to 9:30 p.m. every night. You can also call Teen Link to connect with a substance use specialist seven days a week from 1 to 10 pm.
Because of the wide variety — and potential severity — of the cases that come through Teen Link, Abariy says youth crisis specialists are also aided by adult mentors, staff and clinicians.
And that's key, because the teen volunteers may shoulder the trauma of the youth they're helping.
Chloe Burton and Zane Reed are 16-year-old high school juniors. They've been volunteering with Team Link for about six months.
They used their free period recently to speak with KUOW's Angela King about how they and their peers are doing.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Angela King: You folks are really navigating some new territory that your parents probably didn't have to deal with. How important is it now, Zane, that young people have someone to turn to in times of stress?
Zane Reed: It is really important. And I would also emphasize the importance of having somebody kind of external to your situation that you can talk to, like, not a parent, not a teacher. Obviously, all those relationships can be really helpful, too. But we're all teenagers. We're all going through the same things. And I think we just have a lot of collective wisdom.
Help us understand some of the things you need to be concerned about, as a counselor, as you help your peers.
Zane: Before I started the training at all, I was worried that I would be completely alone, when taking calls. And since then, I've realized that it's a really collaborative environment. There are adults there to help you, other phone workers that you can bounce ideas off of. It's just a lot more of, like, a community space than I originally thought it would be.
Chloe Burton: Yeah, I feel like it's just nice to have diverse [backgrounds], to be able to have people that can look at things through another lens. Like, if you're taking a call and the caller says that they are a person of color, that's a touch point [for me]. I think sometimes it's just nice to know that somebody on the other end of the line has one of the same identities as you, because that means that often you have some of the same shared experiences. Now I can connect with you even more.
Was there a breakthrough moment or a moment where you really felt satisfied? A moment that made you say, "Yes, I made the right decision here. I'm making a difference."
Chloe: My very first call was definitely that moment. I was so nervous on my first shift, and then, on top of that, my first call was pretty intense. It lasted for a really long time. But at the end, the caller was just so grateful. I was proud of myself that I was able to get through it and help them. That felt like the moment where I was just like, wow, I'm so glad that I did this. I'm making a difference in somebody's life.
It's not like school isn't already hard enough. You guys are dealing with so much right now. Chloe, let's be honest, teenagers and adults or their parents don't always speak the same language. So, what advice would you give to adults to help them know when and how to intervene?
Chloe: I feel like the first step is always just to listen, genuinely and without judgment. Sometimes I feel like, personally — and I also hear from a lot of friends — that it's really hard when your parents aren't really understanding what you're saying and they're giving you advice or lecturing or passing judgment before you even fully communicate what you're trying to say or ask from them. And I would also say that it's important to talk to your child as, not necessarily a complete equal, but, like, beyond their level in that situation. Really empathize with them. Because the reality is, there isn't anything that you can do to fix it, but they're coming to you or somebody to validate their experience.
Zane: Yeah, even just knowing that we're there for people to vent to is a very valuable thing for lots of people.
It's incredible what you two are doing on top of your schoolwork. Are there any concerns that this is going to be a hard balance? Or are you in this for the long haul?
Chloe: There are definitely times when it's going to be a lot, but I'm prepared for that. And I'm still so glad that I'm doing it.
Zane: Yeah, I 100% agree.
More information on how to volunteer with Teen Link can be found here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or considering self-harm, call or text 988 for help. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Youth can call Teen Link at 1-866-833-6546 from 6 to 10 p.m. You can also text that number or chat with a specialist at teenlink.org from 6 to 9:30 p.m. every night. You can also call Teen Link to connect with a substance use specialist seven days a week from 1 to 10 p.m.