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Local substitute teacher specializes in life-saving texts

March 2, 2019

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — Franklin Middle School substitute teacher Michelle Muse believes her carefully worded text messages have the power to save lives.

Last October, Muse, of Pocatello, underwent training to become a volunteer with the Crisis Text Line. It’s a national crisis help line with a modern flair, providing support and delivering better results by using the preferred medium of American youths — text chats.

Confidential help is available to anyone with a smartphone who is feeling depressed by texting 741741.

Muse learned about the text line while listening to a National Public Radio broadcast, the Idaho State Journal reports. Since starting as a volunteer in early November, she’s had 300 text conversations with people in crisis from throughout the country. She has no doubt that her succinct, typed responses have saved lives.

“We get a lot of middle-school-aged kids. They share things they haven’t shared with anybody because they like to text,” Muse said. “From what I can see from my role and the texts I get, some of them don’t have any hope. They are so depressed by their situation at school.”

Muse works two-hour shifts five days per week, communicating in text blasts of no more than 160 characters from her home computer. She has real-time access to Crisis Text Line psychologists and other mental health professionals to help guide her responses. Text conversations are monitored by a supervisor, who offers suggestions afterward during debriefing sessions.

Muse has earned the rank of level six crisis counselor. The text line allows counselors who progress to level two and beyond to handle multiple conversations at once — Muse once fielded four conversations at the same time.

“For me personally, it has changed my life,” Muse said. “It’s actually addictive. I want to get on and help.”

Her clients have ranged in age from 11 to 64. Orange-coded communications indicate a high-risk client. Muse said clients usually reach a much safer risk level before the text conversation ends. Clients have the option of taking a brief survey, and Muse has been amazed by the positive results. Twenty-five of her past clients completed them, and all of them expressed extreme gratitude.

For example, one client wrote: “I’ve never opened up to anyone before. You helped me get through a rough time. I can’t believe I was thinking of ending my life. This service helped save it.”

Most conversations last between 45 minutes and an hour. Volunteers sometimes refer clients to internet resources offering relevant guidance, such as balancing work and school, sexual identity, self-harm and loneliness.

Conversations are all unique, but Muse shares a common message to her clients: “It’s normal to feel this way.”

She also asks many clients to reflect on the things they’ve done in the past to make themselves feel better.

As a volunteer, Muse acknowledges she often hears about “horrific, awful things” that are happening to people, and she emphasized volunteers must also focus on taking care of themselves. But it helps her knowing she’s making a difference in people’s lives and giving clients tools to help themselves.

“I had a girl from the East Coast the other day who was being abused and we were able to send police over to her house,” Muse said.

According to the Crisis Text Line’s national website, crisistextline.org, the service has compiled the largest real-time health data set in the U.S., and it shares data with research, policy and community organizations to improve outcomes for people in crisis.

Volunteers with the text line and people in crisis have exchanged more than 80 million text messages since the service was launched in August 2013.

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Information from: Idaho State Journal, http://www.journalnet.com

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