Teen Line has been my life and my passion for about 2 years now, and it’s fundamentally changed who I am as a person and the way I see the world; I’ve found a community that I feel I really belong in and have become so passionate about mental health work because of it. I can’t imagine a life without the Teen Line community and without all the lessons it’s taught me, so here are 7 of the most important things I’ve learned from being a listener on the line:
1 Most of the time, people coming to you for help don’t need you to do a ton of talking; just listening is usually enough!
It was definitely counter-intuitive for me when I first started Teen Line, because I love getting to know people and relating to others based on my own experiences. But, when someone comes to you for help, what seems like sharing a helpful story about yourself can really quickly turn into a whole rant, which takes the attention away from the person you’re trying to help. Most people just need someone to listen to them, nod, and understand what they’re going through, and most of that can be nonverbal!
2 Listening to others can teach you so much about yourself.
I think that, a lot of the time, we don’t truly know what we’re feeling until we hear someone else talk about it. Talking to others gives me so much more clarity about what I’m going through, especially when it comes to problems with school, friends, or anxiety. It makes me feel less alone to know people are going through the same things, and helps me get to the root of my problems. I also get so much perspective from callers who have been through really hard issues, and that helps me find hope when I’m struggling myself.
3 I’ve gotten really good at dealing with difficult people, and seeing where they’re coming from.
This is a part of Teen Line and just helping people in general that people don’t love talking about, but you’re always going to encounter people who don’t seem appreciative of your help. At first, it was so disarming when I had callers who were consistently angry or dismissive––especially because I hate thinking people dislike me––but I quickly realized that it was a defense mechanism to deal with how uncomfortable opening up can be. Some of my friends act this exact way when I’m helping them through something, and it’s important to understand many people get scared sharing or are already emotionally distressed. It’s not personal, even if it might seem like it.
4 Taking time for yourself is one of the most important things, especially when you constantly are there for others.
I’ve had days when, whether I was on a Teen Line shift or just supporting someone in my life, I felt emotionally drained and pushed my own issues aside. But, while it sounds nice, being entirely selfless is actually really harmful and can cause a person to neglect things going on in his or her own life. I definitely used to put my friends’ issues on a much higher tier than my own, but things build up over time and can end up becoming way too overwhelming. While I want to work on the line as often as I can, that doesn’t mean I don’t need time off to recuperate so that I can help even more people in the future.
5 You truly don’t know what other people are going through until you talk to them about it.
I think there’s a misconception that, in order to suffer really seriously from a mental illness, your circumstances have to be really bad; people also tend to think that the signs of abuse or trauma are really obvious from the outside. This is so far from the truth, and I can’t express the countless times I’ve been on calls with people struggling through depression or anxiety who had otherwise really happy lives. It’s very easy to assume people aren’t going through anything because their lives appear really great from the outside, but it’s so important to find out more before assuming.
6 For most people, reaching out and getting help is really scary.
After hearing the number of callers who start calls with shaky voices and nervous laughter, I can say with certainty that most people are really scared to get help. It’s been a crucial fact for me to understand, especially when my friends are struggling and don’t seem to want to talk about it. Most people just need someone to sit with them, not pressure them, and just be there until they’re ready to talk.
7 The scariest and most serious conversations I have on the line––and in life––are usually the ones that are the most important and impactful.
Everyone who volunteers at Teen Line wishes they didn’t have to hear about suicide, child abuse, or anything else that causes callers an intense amount of emotional or physical pain, but unfortunately a lot of calls I get are serious and scary. While it’s painful to be on those calls, those are the ones that have shaped my life so much; changing someone else’s situation, or at least attempting to, through one call is one of the most special feelings in the world. I end so many calls feeling a deep connection with the caller and feeling appreciative that I got to have that experience. I’ll forever put myself in scary situations if it means helping someone else, whether it’s on a hotline or in medicine.
Danny Halo, Former Teen Line Resource Associate
During “my time” at Teen Line, it has been a pleasure to work with Eva. In addition to being dedicated and enthusiastic about her work, she brings a bright presence to the room. I’m excited to see where she goes in the next chapter of her life.
The Teen Line Food for Thought Brunch will be on Sunday, May 5, 2019 at the UCLA Meyer & Renee Luskin Conference Center. We will be honoring Eva, as well as other admirable teen volunteers. For event and ticket info, click here.