Teenage volunteers at suicide prevention link take calls, live chats to help troubled peers

SEATTLE -- Youth suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 in Washington state.

A recent survey among Washington teens revealed one in five high school students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months

Over the last 20 years, teens in King County have been answering the call to help -- peer-to-peer.

It’s a conversation 17-year-old Avery Fulford has nearly every day -- volunteering at Teen Link in north Seattle. Under supervision from trained adults, they answer calls, offering a confidential, anonymous and non-judgmental ear for other teens every night from 6-10 p.m.

“When you put a word on it, when you hear suicidal or suicide, there’s tons of resources that come out of that word. It’s heavy stuff, definitely, and if you have a caller who’s suicidal or someone who’s hurting themselves, it can be really difficult,” says Fulford.

It is difficult to listen to and discuss, but experts insist it’s important that we do. Especially after one in five high school students say they’ve seriously considered suicide.

While more students are thinking about suicide, the survey also shows more teens simply talking about the subject.

Eric Wirkman has guided those conversations for over 8,900 students and youth across King County just in 2016 alone, as a Teen Link outreach education specialist. He visits schools to teach teens how to talk openly about stress, coping mechanisms, warning signs and ways to intervene if a friend may be considering suicide.

High school teacher Linda Cobb says she encourages her students to share their feelings, especially with each other.

“I think one of the most powerful things is having students talk to students,” says Cobb.

In 2016, Teenlink responded to 3,400 calls and live chats. Not every teen may feel comfortable calling the helpline and vocalizing their feelings, even if it is anonymous.

So Teen link offers another option from their website. An anonymous online chat. It’s handled the exact same way as the phone line, but it’s text-based and online and teens can access it every weeknight from 6-9:30 p.m. https://866teenlink.org/chat-now/