Healing and Helping Others
By Faith, a 16-year-old Teen Link phone worker and volunteer, Shorewood High School
What was your help line training like and how has it changed how you handle your mental struggles and those of your friends?
Phone worker training was about 40 hours, many on Zoom, where every single worst-case scenario you could possibly conjure up was talked about—and what to do. Thankfully these rarely, if ever, come up on the line, and we mostly end up using more basic strategies such as feelings validation.
Training could be pretty stressful and was definitely a time commitment, but in my opinion, it was all worth it and has proven to be incredibly beneficial in all spaces, not just Teen Link. Four of the most valuable skills I have taken away from my phone worker training and just being a phone worker in general are 1. Feelings identification; 2. Brainstorming coping skills; 3. The importance of self-care; and 4. Setting boundaries.
I have found that being able to accurately identify your feelings in tough situations will better help you know what you need. For example, if you find yourself feeling sad, branch out on that because sad is a pretty general term. Are you lonely? Ashamed? Fragile? Being able to identify that exact feeling will help you in your next steps, which will depend on the feeling. Maybe it’s seeing a friend or family if you’re lonely. A next step for me is usually brainstorming a coping skill. These can be found on the internet or you can come up with some of your own. For me, I have found specific coping skills that work really well and that I frequently use, such as going for walks.
The importance of self-care and setting boundaries for me are in the same category because setting a boundary is almost a form of self-care. There are so many factors—whether it’s school, feeling responsible for friends, or maybe having to provide for your family that makes it difficult to remember to practice self-care. Self-care can be as simple as taking five minutes to breathe for yourself, or as elaborate as making yourself a meal. Finding something to do every day that’s just for you is so important for being able to have happy and fulfilling relationships with others and yourself. For me, every day I make a smoothie.
Setting a boundary, no matter how big or small, is also necessary for your confidence and making sure you feel respected and valued in whatever space you are in. Whether it is something along the lines of not using substances to having certain topics that are off-limits to friends, it is valid and necessary.
Making sure that friends know the importance of these skills is really helpful and also being an active listener and validating their feelings is often beneficial if they are struggling.
What can teens expect when they call teen link and talk to someone like you?
When calling or texting the Teen Link line, you can expect a confidential and open-minded teen on the other end. We are genuinely there to listen and help in whatever way you need us. It is a safe space for you, no matter the issue. Whether you call in just because you’re feeling lonely or because you have been considering suicide, you will be treated with the same attentiveness and respect. We are truly there for you.
What led you to volunteer at a help line for other teens?
One of my school friends actually recommended Teen Link to me as a way to get volunteer hours. I had just planned on being an outreach worker, but there was a shortage of phone workers, so I was asked to do training. I was pretty anxious about being on the other end of a help line and having that responsibility.
My first few shifts were pretty stressful, especially trying to come up with the perfect thing to say and trying to work the computers. Eventually, I got more in the hang of it with the help of our lifesaving supervisors and by accepting the fact that there is no perfect thing to say, you just listen and try to provide what the caller needs.
Do you have advice for other teens who want to help their friends through hard times?
My three greatest pieces of advice for teens who are helping friends through hard times is to make sure you take the time for yourself so you can be there for them; validate their feelings; and do not feel like you have to be the solution or have all the answers.
Taking time for yourself circles back to self-care—make sure you are practicing self-care so you can be there for them in your best headspace. Validating feelings is so incredibly useful and valuable—you are making them feel seen. Also, try and be an active listener, really process what they are saying. Do not expect to have all the answers or solutions, sometimes just listening to them rant is all they need. You can offer up ideas, advice, or coping skills if they ask, but do not feel pressured to “fix it.”
It is also ok to reach out to an adult or additional resource, such as Teen Link, if the issue is pretty serious and you are worried for their safety.
What has the pandemic done to the struggles teens are facing and what helps?
The pandemic has definitely amplified feelings of isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness for many teens. It has also amplified struggles that may have already been occurring or has presented new challenges.
One of the most helpful things I have found for teens on the line is brainstorming coping strategies and talking with others, if possible, about what is on their minds. It can be really beneficial to have someone else know what is happening and decreasing that isolated feeling. Ideas for coping skills can be found easily on the internet or you can think up your own and they are incredibly useful for dealing with whatever challenge has presented itself.
If you find that you need additional support that’s longer-term, you can find resources in Washington in the Where To Turn For Teens (WTTFT) booklet or the 211 website. These two resource finders are reliable and friendly and are great for teens who may need help from an outside source but cannot tell an adult in their life.
To learn more about Teen Link and how to become a volunteer, visit www.teenlink.org.