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Alex Project: Suicide help is just one text message away

Sarah Strausser

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It was just over five years ago when Alex Strauss, former Pleasant Valley High student, tried to reach out for help over text and did not receive a reply. Later that night, the then 17-year-old took his own life.

There are countless call-in hotlines all over the country and here in Butte County. Text hotlines are fewer in numbers however, according to Dan Strauss, executive director of The Alex Project, and Strauss’ father.

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Dan Strauss, executive director of The Alex Project, created the project to help save the lives of others after the death of his son, Alex. Photo courtesy of Dan Strauss.

 

The project promotes text hotlines for people in crisis. The project works by encouraging those in distress to simply text LISTEN to the number 741-741. A group of trained expert counselors will be in contact with the crisis victim within minutes, Strauss said.

Strauss said that his son, like many of today’s young adults, liked to communicate via text message. According to a national survey, 55 percent of young adults text their friends at least once every day, but only 25 percent see their friends in person (except during school).

In another survey by Pew Research Center, teens send and receive almost 50 texts each day, while only participating in about five calls each day.

“[Alex] was much more open in text communication,” Strauss said.

Strauss saw his son communicate well via text message and thought finding a specialist who could support Alex in that way might be the answer.

“I found a counselor that texted,” Strauss said. “But even she was not going to be up 24 hours of the day for help.”

Strauss began creating The Alex Project in 2011, almost exactly one year after his son died. After much searching, he found a call center in Reno— the closest hotline to Butte County— that was beginning to accept text crises.

this is an image“Because we didn’t have anything here like they had in Reno, they told me they would act as a regional center for us,” Strauss said.

From there, Strauss and The Alex Project team were able to begin promoting the idea with a real number attached and help ready to respond.

However, the text hotline solution is not perfect, neither is the concept. There are still many complications that Strauss and his team face.

“The biggest issue is resistance to change,” Strauss said.

According to Strauss, there are many suicide phone hotlines, and people are very tied to that idea.

Counselors on the other end of the line have reported that helping victims through text is one of the hardest ways to provide support in a desperate moment. The opening of text hotlines puts a strain on employees, even if they do help reach more people in need.

After just a year of beginning the texting and chatroom option, a Nebraska crisis center reported that this part of its program now makes up for one fifth of the way it deals with crises.

“There will be people like my son that just will not call,” Strauss said.

Even if texting options change the way that crisis centers are run, they may be vital to saving lives.

“When my son was reaching out for help in the middle of the night on Oct. 11 of 2010, nobody was there to respond,” Strauss said.

He hopes the text hotline will help save lives in the future.

“There is absolutely no reason why this should not be broadcasted all over the place so anybody that is in crisis that needs to reach out by texting can,” Strauss said.

Sarah Strausser can be reached at [email protected] or @strausser_sarah on Twitter.

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Alex Project: Suicide help is just one text message away