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The HELP Line will be a resource anyone seeking time-sensitive help for mental health issues.

Credit: Picasa , Courtesy of Bhaskar Peddhapati/Creative Commons (cropped for web)

Students who don’t know where to turn now have a central option for mental health concerns: 215-898-HELP.

Penn launched its mental health HELP line on Dec. 1, 2014. Since then, 54 students have called the number. Of these calls, two were made on behalf of a student who the caller wanted to check in on, 17 were transferred to Counseling and Psychological Services and eight were requests for information, according to the Mental Health Task Force report.

“This really just is the catch-all for people in the crisis who might not feel they have the energy to look up the numbers,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, who sat on the Mental Health Task Force, said.

Setting up the HELP line was not a simple task, Rush said. “We had to acquire the phone number, we wanted to ensure that the PennComm call-takers were trained to respond.”

Callers reach the HELP line for a variety of reasons. Rush said some callers simply request information about CAPS, others are parents who are worried about their children and still others are students calling for personal help.

“Some of the calls might be a parent who says, ‘I haven’t been able to reach my son for a whole weekend. I’m worried,’” Rush said. She said DPS would respond by sending police officers to find the student and ask them to call their parents.

Alternatively, she said, a student will say, “‘I’m feeling like I’m wanting to hurt myself, and I need help.’” In this case, the dispatchers will “immediately connect that person to the on-call CAPS person. In urgent cases, DPS will arrange transportation for a person to a hospital, if this is what the CAPS clinician on duty recommends.

“We are not psychologists. We are trained to be a crisis center,” Rush said. When students do reach CAPS, the clinicians take over.

“There’s a mechanism where the dispatcher keeps the caller on the line and reaches the CAPS clinician on call and connects the two so that the person never goes off the line,” CAPS Director Bill Alexander said.

He added that the system is not simple. If a student calls on a Friday, for example, CAPS will follow up multiple times over the course of the weekend. Throughout the weekend, CAPS may send a clinician to visit the student if staffers feel it is necessary. Eventually, he said, CAPS would try to “get them in here on Monday.”

Once a person reaches CAPS, “from then on, the person’s our client,” Alexander explained. Usually, he said, callers appreciate the help, but others are still hesitant to follow-up with CAPS after the initial call.

Alexander commended the PennComm dispatchers, saying they have been doing a great job parceling out calls. “They are very experienced talking to people who are in danger and who are upset,” he said.

Rush said the HELP line gives students in need a place to turn. It is “not meant to replace the PennComm emergency number, nor is it meant to replace CAPS during the day,” she said.

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