El Paso County still bears the wounds of multiple teen suicides —
2015 alone had 15 children who took their own lives — but the National Alliance on Mental Health’s campaign, Below the Surface, aims to help children with a “texting therapy” resource.
The steps are simple: text TALK to 38255 and trained counselors will respond in a confidential text. If students cannot text, then they can call 1-844-493-8255.
The text is real time, 24/7, but the average text conversation length is about 50 minutes. Depending on the severity, that determines what happens next,” said Lori Jarvis NAMI executive director.
This free service is dedicated to helping students through any situation — depression, stress, anxiety, relationship problems, suicidal thoughts, drugs and alcohol, death and grief, domestic violence, or worries about a friend or family member.
In 2016, Below the Surface received funding from Colorado Springs Health Foundation, and it is now making its way into schools.
During the texting or calling conversation, coun-selors through Colorado Crisis Services will ask for three pieces of information from the student: zip code, date of birth and name; however, students do not have to provide that information if they do not want to.
Below the Surface does not contact parents of teenage texters, nor do they make regular reports to law enforcement.
“We only reach out to law enforcement if we believe a teen is a threat to themselves or some-one else,” Jarvis said.
Other organizations such as Suicide Hotlines or Safe2Tell have been integrated into schools, but Below the Surface is taking a different angle; “Safe2Tell is primarily about reporting something of concern and action will be taken with law en-forcement, but Below the Surface is a therapeutic service for any situation,” Jarvis explained.
"This has been a labor of love, and our goal is to get to people before they’re at the point of a crisis," said Jarvis.
Sixteen El Paso County schools have already in-tegrated Below the Surface into their districts to meet students where they are, including Mesa Ridge, Discovery Canyon, Manitou High School and Manitou Middle School, Falcon, Atlas Prepara-tory and more.
“Whether students have a tough exam, AP class, a breakup, or are feeling like they’re being left out, we hope people will pick up their phones and text us,” Jarvis said.