By Ford Turner
Requests for help in Berks County may now be made with the thumbs.
Text messaging has become the newest mode of communication that troubled teenagers and others may use to contact county crisis interventionists, thanks to a $70,000 project involving Service Access Management Inc. and the county Office of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
“Everybody is using text messaging because it is quicker,” said Ed Michalik, office administrator. “It is such an easy way to get to people.”
The concept is simple. A teenager – or anyone else who feels the need to anonymously contact an interventionist – may text the characters “ruOK” to the phone number 484-816-7865.
The response will be a text asking that the sender go through a brief registration process. Afterward, they will be texting with a crisis interventionist at SAM’s office on Sixth Street.
SAM operates the crisis phone line in Berks. Michalik and Amy Groh, director of crisis intervention services for SAM, stressed that text messaging will not replace telephone conversations or in-person meetings.
“We still prefer face to face,” Michalik said. “Most of our thousands upon thousands of crisis contacts are face to face.”
Groh said she learned of the use of texting in intervention work when she attended an American Association of Suicidology Conference.
Given that most teenagers and young adults are at home text messaging, Groh said, “It seemed like a natural way for it to go.”
Billboard advertising and posters placed in area schools will be used to spread the word about the service. Michalik said teenagers have typically used the county’s crisis services less than adults, but those numbers could change with texting availability.
The county contracted with txtAboutIt, a Mississippi-based vendor, to provide software.
The initiative was motivated in part by ongoing meetings of the Berks County Suicide Prevention Task Force, which has focused attention on depression and the risk factors for suicide.
In the five years from 2011 through 2015, the county coroner’s office recorded suicide death totals of 63, 56, 84, 59 and 55. So far this year, there have been 54 suicides in Berks.
Michalik said the debut of the text system could help with the problem.
“We are excited about it,” he said. “It’s another tool in our toolbox.”
Contact Ford Turner: 610-371-5037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.