An ‘upstream’ solution

NAMI’s crisis text line campaign

When Lori Jarvis, executive director of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), applied for a Colorado Springs Health Foundation grant, she had two goals in mind: first, to open up an avenue for youth to access mental health services in a new way, and second, to gather information about what’s going on in the minds of those local youth.

With CSHF’s funding support, and the assistance of local marketing company Design Rangers, the first goal has taken the form of the “Below the Surface” outreach campaign — a print and online project developed to inform youth in El Paso County about the availability of the state’s 24/7 crisis text line, and to encourage them to use the free and confidential service.

“As anyone who has or has been around teens know, texting is how they communicate,” says Jarvis. “We saw this as more of an upstream solution if we could get youth and teens comfortable with the idea of texting when they were having what felt like a tough time in their life. It didn’t have to be a suicide attempt or a truly serious mental health crisis, it just had to be youth beginning to understand that there were resources out there for them before they got to that point.”

Colorado Crisis Services manages the text line, and as a part of the “Below the Surface” project, has built out a dashboard to meet that second goal of anonymous data collection, thanks to additional funding support from AspenPointe, the Bjorkman Foundation, and Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners.

“We hoped that we could gather more information about what’s going on with our youth and teens,” says Jarvis. “What’s on their minds? What are their triggers? What are the things that they struggle with day-to-day? Who do they rely on in their lives? But mostly, what are the overarching issues that our youth and teens are facing that are causing them to have this suicidal ideation or complete suicide?”

Sharing the data is also key to this project, she adds. “We wanted people to be able to access this information, and there is nothing proprietary about it. We really want to give people a new and different way to get into the heads of our teens and figure out what’s motivating them and what’s challenging them. What’s causing loneliness? What’s breaking their hearts?”

Jarvis is clear to note that a different type of data collection has been important too. NAMI and the Design Rangers called upon local teens who were passionate about and/or living with mental health issues to spend facilitated group time sharing their experiences and their struggles, asking questions, and giving feedback.

“Overall, we were surprised by how incredibly thoughtful their questions were,” says Jenny Schell, president of Design Rangers. “They were asking us things like: ‘Do you have to have health insurance? Is there a trained counselor or just a volunteer on the other end? Will conversations remain confidential?’ Because of their input, we realized the campaign needed a website where teens could go learn more and read FAQs.”

The teen input is key to why Jarvis says the campaign overall has been resonating so well.

“It’s genuine and authentic,” she says. “That was one of the lessons for us. It’s not fully baked until it’s teen-tested.”

“I think our community has been so traumatized about what’s gone on with teen suicides that it took us a while to get our grip and get our bearings about what might work,” Jarvis adds. “I think we’re getting closer to figuring out what some of those things might be, and we hope this text line is part of that solution, and we hope that the information that we gather, just as importantly, will be part of that solution.”

Learn more about the Below the Surface campaign at need2text.com. To reach the crisis text line, text TALK to 38255.