Hotline Provides a Place for Teens to Be Heard

October 12, 2018
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Gilda Giovine is part of the 2ND FLOOR call center staff and mans the youth helpline. Photo courtesy 2NDFLOOR

By Jenna O’Donnell |

Often there are no easy answers for kids struggling with the stresses of peer relationships, mental health, or loss of a loved one. But, by offering confidential and anonymous advice via text or phone, a unique Monmouth County-based helpline is working to help young callers deal with their problems in a healthy way.
2NDFLOOR, a Hazlet-based youth helpline run by the 180 Turning Lives Around, a Monmouth County nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, invites young people to call or text about both every day and serious problems.

“We help find solutions for problems kids are facing, either at school, with friends or at home,” said Liz Graham, an associate director at the agency. “We hope they start calling about small issues so that when they have that big thing, it feels like a logical step.”

Since it began 10 years ago, Graham said 2NDFLOOR has more than 10 million contacts with youths from all over the state, usually between the ages of 10 and 18. Though it began as a talking line, the helpline started offering texting three years ago, a popular feature with young people that has the added benefit of keeping the helpline number handy should they need it again.

Members of the 2NDFLOOR youth advisory team working on a sidewalk project. Photo courtesy 2NDFLOOR

“Everything is really done via text message these days,” Graham said. “We find that kids really get to the issue at hand in text conversation. It’s a comfortable format that they’re familiar with.”

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The Hazlet call center operates 24/7 and is staffed by both manager level clinical supervisors and trained volunteers. Counselors focus on helping students to work through their problems in a constructive way.
“The goal with each contact is identifying a next step,” Graham said. “They are really kind of working it out with the counselor on the phone so that it’s sort of a problem-solving type of conversation.”

Sometimes the next step is identifying an adult who can help with a specific issue. Often for teens facing relationship concerns, the next step might mean a suggested online quiz to figure out if the relationship is a healthy one. But for many of the teens, it can just help to have someone to talk to, free of judgment or pressure.
Graham named an example of a young woman who had graduated and started her freshman year at college who texted the helpline to talk through the anxiety she was feeling.

“It’s a way to blow off steam sometimes,” she said. “We want kids to call or text us every day if that helps them.”

Most of 2NDFLOOR’s monthly callers come with everyday problems, but about three to four cases each month involve a youth who might be at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. In those scenarios, when there might be a child abuse situation or a risk of suicide or violence, counselors inform callers that anonymity is waived. Staff then use tracing technology to alert local police and get emergency services out to them.

The #MeToo movement has given 2NDFLOOR, and to a greater extent the sexual assault hotline at its parent agency, an uptick in callers. Both organizations will also be reinforcing messaging about healthy, safe relationships as October kicks of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

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Information and the number for the 2NDFLOOR youth helpline is available in nurse and guidance offices at schools throughout the state, but the organization gets most of its calls and texts through word of mouth.

“That’s the No. 1 thing,” Graham said. “If we can get kids to get the information into the phone – once it’s there it’s more likely that they will use it when they need it.”

The helpline: 888-222-2228 provides assistance at any time, day or night and helps young men and women to feel a little less alone in facing their problems.

“To have a place to flesh it out and be taken seriously…it can make all the difference,” Graham said. “At the end of every call we ask ‘Did this make you feel better?’ And often they’ll tell us, ‘Yeah I feel better.’”

This article was first published in the Oct. 4-10, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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