Student supports those in crisis

Dale Satre, Staff Writer

Every Friday and Sunday, Sierra Abel logs into the Crisis Text Line for her shift as a volunteer crisis counselor. People all over the country text the nonprofit organization at all hours, and it’s not to tell counselors about how good their day is going. Instead, Abel has been trained to take her texters from a panicked moment to a calmer state, through active listening and problem solving.

Abel, a biology and communications major at Los Medanos College, never meets the people who text her, but that doesn’t make the interactions any less meaningful.

“I joined because I really wanted to help people,” Abel said. “You really are saving lives. It’s what keeps me coming back.”

Colleges around the country are re-evaluating their mental health resources as suicide rates have climbed the past 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide was the second-leading cause of death nationwide for people aged 10 to 24 years old in 2016.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that noted the proportion of young  people treated at hospitals for suicidal thoughts and attempts doubled from 0.66 percent of all visits in 2008 to 1.82 percent of all visits in 2015.

The National College Health Assessment noted a dramatic increase in college students with depression or anxiety — an already sobering 32.6 percent of college students were affected in 2013 and the number rose to 40.2 percent last year. For the seventh year in a row, college counseling centers nationwide are reporting a rise in visits from students with suicidal thoughts.

The Mayo Clinic Foundation advises that it’s normal for college students to feel occasionally sad or anxious — as long as these emotions pass in a few days. However, transitioning to new workloads and lifestyles in college can induce prolonged depression affecting how students feel, think or behave and can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.

The Contra Costa County Community College District has tried to reach out to students feeling suicidal, or in need of other mental health help. The district’s Student Wellness Program is a partnership with John F. Kennedy’s University Community Counseling Centers that provides students with short-term counseling services for mental health and for issues in and out of school. Services will be available throughout the year starting in October; for LMC, it will be twice per week at the Pittsburg campus and once per week at the Brentwood campus. The program is run by JFK graduate trainees and interns supervised by licensed clinicians.

The district also runs the Student Assistance Program (SAP) through the Managed Health Network. SAP is a program that provides confidential in-person, telephonic and web-video counseling for students’ emotional health needs, as well as advice with financial and legal services. Depending on the case, SAP can refer students to mental health, legal and financial professionals within the network, at no cost to students.

Abel advises anyone who is interested in helping as a crisis text counsellor to be sure of their commitment before volunteering.

“It takes a mental toll,” she said, “but it’s very worth it.”

Anybody who has suicidal or depressed thoughts should call the American Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. For immediate help, please call 911.