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Teen Talk’s young volunteers offer mental health support to Clark County teens

Teen volunteers go through extensive training to help community; Program turns 20 in 2023

By , Columbian staff reporter
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Kris Henriksen of Teen Talk joins her dog, Hope, as she takes a break with compassion boxes for students in need at her Vancouver office. The boxes are decorated on the outside by volunteers and filled with items such as snacks, pamphlets, journals and inspiring messages.
Kris Henriksen of Teen Talk joins her dog, Hope, as she takes a break with compassion boxes for students in need at her Vancouver office. The boxes are decorated on the outside by volunteers and filled with items such as snacks, pamphlets, journals and inspiring messages. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At 14, Erin Taylor become one of the original seven volunteers at Teen Talk, providing support to other youth via anonymous phone calls.

Teen Talk began in December 2003, after focus groups wrestled with how to support youth struggling with their mental health following the loss of several students from a local high school to suicide, according to program coordinator Kris Henriksen.

The answer came from a group of youth who recommended creating a support line for youths to talk to another young person about their struggles.

“Their biggest recommendation that they put forward was that they wanted to be able to talk with someone about their struggles and their challenges,” Henriksen said. “And they wanted it to be someone their own age, but they also wanted it to be someone safe.”

Now, Teen Talk has been offering anonymous, confidential and nonjudgmental support for teens by teens for almost 20 years.

Resources for children, teens

Rates of depression and anxiety in children have increased over time, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Between 2016 and 2019, approximately 9.8 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years old were diagnosed with ADHD, 9.4 percent were diagnosed with anxiety, 8.9 percent were diagnosed with behavior problems and 4.4 percent were diagnosed with depression.

For adolescents between 12 and 17 years old, depression and suicide have become major concerns. Between 2018 and 2019, 36.7 percent of youths in this age range reported persistent feelings of hopelessness, 15.1 percent had a major depressive episode,18.8 percent considered attempting suicide and 8.9 percent attempted suicide, according to CDC data.

Clark County Public Health data from 2019 showed similar numbers for youths residing in Clark County. Data also highlighted the lack of access to behavioral health care, with a ratio of 355 people for every one mental health provider in Clark County.

Though Clark County is in need of more mental health providers, a number of resources exist to provide support to children and families struggling with mental health disorders.

Here’s a list of some of the local and national resources available:

Community Resources Children’s Center

What: The Children’s Center has been providing mental health services to children in Clark County since 1989. The organization offers services including a mental health program, a school-based mental health program, a child sexual abuse treatment program and a COACHES program providing specialized treatment for youth affected by methamphetamine.

Where: 13500 S.E. Seventh St., Vancouver.

Contact: thechildrenscenter.org or call 360-699-2244 for more information.

Children’s Home Society

What: Children’s Home Society provides services for both children and families with a goal of “building loving families,” according to their website. Services include: child and family counseling; family support; parent education classes; and Triple Point, a support group for LGBTQ+ youth 11-18 years old.

Where: 309 W. 12th St., Vancouver and 1702 C St., Washougal.

Contact: childrenshomesociety.org/clarkcowlitz/ or call 360-695-1325 for the Vancouver location and 360-835-7802 for the Washougal location.

Daybreak Youth Services

What: Daybreak Youth Services offers adolescent addiction and mental health treatment services for youth ages 13 to 17. The organization has inpatient programs in Brush Prairie for male-identifying youth and Spokane for female-identifying youth as well as outpatient counseling and short-term crisis stabilization services.

Where: 11910 N.E. 154th St., Brush Prairie, and 628 South Cowley St., Spokane, for inpatient programs with a number of other locations for the other services offered.

Contact: daybreakyouthservices.org or call 888-454-5506.

Family Solutions

What: Family Solutions offers mental health therapy services to Medicaid-eligible youth and their families. The organization serves young people ages 3 to 21 and provides support and treatment for conditions such as anxiety, depression, family conflict and trauma.

Where: 3200 N.E. 109th Ave., Vancouver.

Contact: family-solutions.net or call 360-695-1014.

Crisis Services SW WA Crisis Line

What: The 24-hour, year-round crisis line will triage, screen and conduct an assessment of needs of the caller or individual they are calling about. The operator can offer crisis support and help facilitate linkage to appropriate intervention and resources for the individual.

Contact: Call 800-626-8137 for support 24 hours a day.

The Trevor Project

What: The Trevor Project is a 24-hour, year-round crisis line providing suicide prevention and mental health support for LGBTQ+ young people.

Contact: thetrevorproject.org, call 866-488-7386 or text 678-678.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

What: Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the hotline provides confidential support for people in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, all year long. The Lifeline consists of over 200 local crisis centers across the United States.

Contact: Call 988.

To learn more

For a list of additional local resources visit ccteentalk.clark.wa.gov/resources.

— Nika Bartoo-Smith

 

“It just makes me emotional thinking about the fact that (youths) will go through all this training just so they can volunteer being nice to other people on the phone,” Henriksen said. “The level of kindness and compassion that young people are willing to share just blows my mind.”

One volunteer’s experience

Prior to taking any phone calls, Taylor and the other volunteers completed hours of training about how to assist others and provide empathy. What helped her feel most prepared to offer support to other young people was the trust from the adult staff who believed she was capable, she said.

An adult staff member is always on site in case a situation arises that requires the youth volunteer to get assistance.

“They are not expected to be, or allowed to be, social workers,” Henricksen said. “Our staff are the ones who make mandatory reports for everybody who needs it. What we want our youth volunteers to do is to be as empathetic and nonjudgmental three hours a week as they can possibly muster.”

For around four years, Taylor volunteered three hours a week. She received phone calls from parents asking for support with their teenager struggling with mental health, phone calls from youths wanting advice on how to support their friends, phone calls from youth who needed someone to talk to and even the occasional prank call — which was welcomed by Taylor because they helped provide comic relief, she said.

Many of the phone calls she received were from other youths who “just needed somebody to listen to them,” she said. Taylor recalled many instances talking to youths who were bullied at school and then went home where they felt unwanted or unloved, as well.

“I think what continued to motivate me was that I wanted to be able to show other people that they can get through these really dark times, too,” Taylor said.

As a teenager, Taylor experienced suicidal thoughts and a number of traumatic life experiences that contributed to struggles with her mental health.

“I don’t think at the time I knew how much I needed that,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for a series of events that began at Teen Talk with Kris.”

Volunteering for Teen Talk became the space where Taylor received the support she needed — from other volunteers, from staff and from important conversations with youth who called in. It helped provide her a sense of community and purpose, Taylor said.

“No matter what was going on in my life, I was always allowed to be me there,” Taylor said. “It was the place where I felt safe. It’s the place where I could be silly, I could be rambunctious, I could cry, I could be happy … That’s the place where I could be the most authentic.”

Today, Taylor works as a therapist after getting her master’s degree in social work, continuing to use many of the skills she learned volunteering at Teen Talk.

Teen Talk services

Currently, Teen Talk has 10 volunteers between ages 15 and 19 who each volunteer three hours a week. The organization is looking for more volunteers, according to Henricksen. Volunteers go through over 20 hours of training before taking any calls.

The Teen Talk hotline is staffed by volunteers Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. Teens or adults with questions regarding a teen in their life can also access support via text message, email or social media messaging.

The top five types of support given to those who reach out include providing positive peer support and encouragement, being someone to vent to, helping solve problems and identifying support systems, according to 2018 data. The data showed the top five topics people needed support with included feeling alone, family struggles, issues with friends, LGBTQ+ identity struggles and dating advice.

Teen Talk is not a crisis hotline. If needed, volunteers or staff will transfer callers to the Clark County Crisis Line, 911 or other appropriate resources.

Since COVID-19 sent people into isolation, Henriksen created compassion boxes to give out to teenagers needing a little something extra. The boxes are decorated on the outside by volunteers and filled with items such as snacks, pamphlets about coping strategies for different mental health struggles, journals, inspiring messages and a signature Peppy Pen cheerleader holding a sign with a message such as “you are worthy.” The boxes can be requested by counselors or family members for teenagers across Clark County. So far, Henriksen and the team of volunteers have made around 1,600 compassion boxes.

To access Teen Talk services call 360-397-2428, text 360-984-0936, email ccteentalk1@hotmail.com, visit ccteentalk.clark.wa.gov or find the organization on various social media platforms.

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