“You don’t know who is on the other end of that line. [Their experience can] be a lot closer to you than you think.”
Not every call that comes through the National Runaway Safeline involves a crisis. For many at-risk youth and adults, anonymously speaking with NRS’ frontline team members (aka liner) can simply be another tool at their disposal to manage their anxiety and well-being during times when turning to friends or family is not an easy option.
That was the case last summer when a young woman dialed 1-800-RUNAWAY from an elite academic summer camp. Like a lot of students, Kat*, a high school senior, was experiencing burnout. For the first time in her life, she was isolated from her support system back home and was having a difficult time coping with the high-pressure challenge she was undertaking.
“She was just able to articulate what she was feeling and what she was experiencing so well,” says Kiley, the volunteer liner who fielded the call. “She was scared, but she was really smart and so aware of what was happening to her. It was rare for a call because, a lot of times, when you’re young, it’s hard to process what you’re feeling.”
Kat explained to Kiley that she had dealt with depression and stress in the past, and needed to talk things through before discussing her mental health needs again with her parents. She didn’t want to alarm or upset her mother whom she wanted to open up to but was not quite ready. “She was putting that off because she was worried about what they might say.”
Because Kat had a positive relationship with her parents and was so much more assertive and vocal than other callers, Kat was able to prompt and guide the discussion with a very light touch and non-presumptuous, open-ended questions “to help her find the answers that she kind of already knew…‘Do you remember what your therapist told you to do in this situation? Do you know how your parents would react if you were feeling so much pressure?’ That made her realize they wouldn’t be mad at her. They love her.”
After gathering her thoughts, Kat felt confident enough to give her mother a call to discuss what she was feeling without fear of upsetting her.
For Kiley, it was a reminder that at-risk youth, and anybody, no matter how confident, can sometimes benefit from an objective sympathetic ear. “You don’t know who is on the other end of that line. [Their experience can] be a lot closer to you than you think.”
Kiley has been an NRS’ frontline team member for two years
*The youth’s name and details have been changed to respect anonymity.