Imagine this: You’re a full-time student balancing school work, social life and a volunteer position. In this position, you can work flexible shifts from any location. You pull out your laptop and clock in; silently, you await the incoming messages. This isn’t a typical volunteer opportunity at a food bank or animal shelter; you have chosen to be a crisis counselor for a Crisis Text Line.
For University of South Carolina fourth-year biology student, Celine Peksenar, this was a reality.
“Crisis Text Line is a non-profit organization that works to help people in any type of crisis, not just suicide,” Peksenar explains. “The main goal of the organization is to help people go from a hot moment, to a cool calm and allow them to create a sort of action plan on how to make themselves feel better in the moment.”
Mental health and times of crisis are both difficult topics that are relevant within young societies, yet we rarely hear about college students volunteering to counsel within these areas; however, Peksenar decided to do just this.
When asked what she believed to be the most difficult task within counseling, Peksenar answered: “These people are texting in while they are in desperate times, so some conversations can be extremely difficult. However, for me, the hardest part would be when they either stop engaging and don’t text back, or when they actively text “STOP” to discontinue the service … It’s hard to have to let them go without finishing the conversation.”
Peksenar heard about Crisis Text Line from a friend, and decided to start volunteering.
"It sounded like an incredible organization that was really helping people in need right when they needed it most,” she explained. She found it rewarding to receive a simple “thank you,” knowing that she made a difference.
However, this position did bring upon difficult conversations that sometimes affected Peksenar’s own mental health: “My first conversation ended up being a really difficult conversation and actually ended in an active rescue – meaning we had to contact 911 about someone who was having suicidal ideation and planning to act on those thoughts,” she explains. Despite this, the organization does a great job in making sure that their volunteers are taking care of their own mental health, as well.
"They will make sure that their volunteers are taking care of themselves because you can’t pour from an empty cup," Peksenar said. "They try to limit volunteers to no more than 12 hours a week on the platform and they will personally check in and make sure you are doing okay if you had a particularly tough conversation."
This position isn't for everyone, but Peksenar feels that she has gained important skills through the experience: “This position did teach me a lot of valuable skills in effective communication, as well as how to be more empathic. These are all important to have in everyday life when dealing with people because you never know what someone might be going through,” she said.
To those struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, this is what Peksenar would like to leave for you: "Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out is the most important first step in trying to make things better … You are not alone, and there are people that want to help you, you just have to let them by telling them what you are going through. And know that things, although it may not seem like it now, always can get better.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or is in a time of crisis, please reach out: “Text HELLO to 741-741.”