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Penn's HELP line provides a touch-point for students in crisis and connects them with CAPS counselors.

Credit: Julio Sosa

Last year, President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price created a committee to look at mental health issues in light of a series of suicides that had just rocked the school. They consulted experts around the country, comparing the issues at Penn and other universities.

As a result of this committee, Penn created the HELP Line at 215-898-HELP (215-898-4357) on Sept. 30, 2014. Students can call the number anytime when they need help understanding Penn’s resources for health and wellness.

In a message sent out to the Penn community, Gutmann, Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli described the HELP Line as “a single point of entry for information about how to get help with personal problems, whether your own or those of a student, partner, friend, or colleague.”

The message informed students that calls would be answered at all hours, every day of the week.

“Penn is very rich in resources; [there are] so many ways in which people can get help,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said.

With so many resources on campus, knowing who to call can be a little confusing. The HELP Line solves the problem by informing students who to call when in crisis.

The HELP line also provides students the ability to talk to a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services. Dispatchers for the HELP Line have been trained by CAPS Director William Alexander, Rush said.

If a student needs to speak with a CAPS counselor immediately, dispatchers will stay on the phone until they can directly connect the student. Then, to ensure privacy, the dispatcher will hang up.

Through the HELP Line, students can get information or immediate help on the phone. Police may also go and intervene in a crisis due to a call placed to the HELP line, Rush said.

“Unequivocally, in the past year, the HELP Line has been invaluable to a number of people,” Rush said.

The HELP Line is separate from the Reach-a-Peer Helpline that provides peer support to students at Penn. The Division of Public Safety noted the difference between actually talking with someone on the phone and just leaving a message.

Some students call even if it is not an emergency. These students usually ask for information on how to contact CAPS and make an appointment, DPS said.

In their message to the Penn community announcing the HELP line, Gutmann and Price wrote, “Recommended by the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare, the HELP Line is one of the initiatives undertaken in recent months as part of our continuing efforts to support the emotional well-being of the Penn community.”

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