The ringing of the phone vibrates through my head, telling me someone needs help. I pick it up and start the routine, "Teen Lifeline, this is Amber." About 45 minutes later I hang up feeling a sense of jubilation because I helped another teen. I walk out of the phone area, sit back on the couch and talk to other peer counselors until the phone rings again. Volunteering at Teen Lifeline has helped me realize how to deal with my own problems and help others with theirs.
"I'm only 15 but I think I'm pregnant." When a counselor gets a call like this, a flood of questions rushes to mind. One of the main ones is whether or not the pregnancy is a result of rape. Other questions we ask are if the partner knows, if her parents know, and if she has seen a doctor. We let the teen know about prenatal care and that they have choices. Most want to keep the news from their parents until they know for sure if they are pregnant. At the end of the conversation, the counselor gives the girl a number to call for a free pregnancy test plus more information about doctors. We also ask her to call us back.
"My mom is always fighting with me. I want to run away." Some teens feel their home is a prison, rather than a place of shelter and safety. They feel parents are only there to make their lives miserable. When we get a call like this, we try to help the teen realize the danger they could be in without giving them advice. All the counselor can do is ask questions. Also, we tell them about the laws for those who run away. The counselors also try to find out where the teen would go and how they would survive. We always try to get them to talk to an adult. We give them a phone number if they still don't want to live in their "prison."
"I don't want to live anymore" is something we hear, and suicide calls are some of the hardest to deal with. They are the longest and most emotional. With a call like this, we need to find out as much information as possible. We try to discover why they want to take their life and how serious they are, asking them to rate themselves on a scale of one to 10. One means they are thinking about suicide but haven't decided how, and 10 means they are always thinking about it and have a plan. The counselor asks the teen to make a promise that he or she will not hurt themselves. If the teen makes the promise, the counselor can feel a little better. At the end of the call we try to get the teen to talk to an adult. We give them a number and ask them to call us back if they need our help. Also, we want to make sure that the teen is okay so sometimes we ask the teen if we can have their number to call them back.
Although many calls are pranks, hang-ups or relatively small problems, volunteering at Teen Lifeline has helped me realize I'm not the only person with problems. It has taught me how to listen with my heart instead of just my head and help others. I have made a difference and saved many lives - possibly even my own, too.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.