There is a reality about our youth that we can no longer ignore. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),
- Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.
- Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) teenage girls seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year—up nearly 60% from a decade ago.
- More than 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ students (22%) attempted suicide in the past year.
- The rise in suicide attempts among Black teens has been increasing since 1991— rising a staggering 73% over the last 25 years.
Our young people are crying out for help. Samaritans created Hey Sam in response to that need, and aimed to build it in a way that works for young people.
“Hey Sam provides young people a place where they can feel comfortable, not judged, and they can feel safe talking about whatever they are going through,” said Jeremiah Mankin, Director of Text Services who oversees Hey Sam. “And they can talk with someone who is much more likely to understand than someone who might be older. Everyone needs someone to turn to. If Hey Sam can be that for someone, that’s awesome.”
With this month marking the first anniversary of the launch of Hey Sam, we wanted to share a bit about the program and its impact. We are excited about how far we have come, but we are even more excited about where we are going — and we want you to come along with us on this journey.
What exactly is Hey Sam?
Hey Sam is a dedicated peer-to-peer texting service for people up to 24 years old. Designed for and staffed by young people, Hey Sam gives youth the opportunity to reach peers if they are struggling, need someone to talk to, or need support.
Hey Sam is the only peer-to-peer texting service available to young people in Massachusetts, and it is accredited by the International Council for Helplines. You can reach Hey Sam by texting 439-726.
How did Hey Sam start?
Hey Sam officially launched on March 14, 2022, but the momentum behind this much-needed support service was actually started long before by someone outside of Samaritans. Senator Rebecca L. Rausch approached our organization with the idea in 2021 after listening to young people in a town hall forum she had hosted.
“The idea came from young people in our district. I hold a regular youth legislative forum called ‘Students Speak’. During the very first one, students were very clear and wise and fervent in their request for more mental health support,” Rausch said. “Our young people are facing stressors that most of us couldn’t even envision when we were kids. …They need space. They need space to be able to talk freely.”
(Note: Be sure to read more about Senator Rausch’s role in launching Hey Sam)
Jeremiah Mankin has led the launching, management, and growth of this project since its inception.
“It’s an honor to be able to develop a program where people share what they are going through and we are able to be the service or person they open up to,” Mankin said. “Young people now more than ever are talking about what they are feeling and going through. It gives me a sense of hope. No longer are the days that we have to suppress those emotions. It’s a really unique time to be doing this work.”
What impact has it had?
In the year since it has been in operation, Hey Sam has had a 100% success rate in de-escalating conversations at imminent risk of suicide. Nearly 1,000 people have used Hey Sam in the past year, with more than 1,400 text conversations answered and more than 1,200 hours spent talking with young people who are struggling. In fact, last month (February) was the busiest month for Hey Sam to date, with 177 people reaching out to the text line.
Jeremiah Mankin also shared another way that Hey Sam has had an impact — Hey Sam volunteers are deeply and positively impacted by the work they do.
“We don’t talk enough about the benefits our volunteers get from training and the experience of volunteering,” he said. “We are teaching young people how to ask really difficult questions in ways that many adults aren’t able to do. Our volunteers learn how to steer into the pain and to create a place where you can talk about what needs to be said. It’s a key skill to teach young people to not be afraid to have difficult conversations in their life — it will serve them wherever they go in life.”
Who answers texts to Hey Sam?
We have an incredible team of trained volunteers answering texts to Hey Sam. They are 15 to 24 years old, and many are legacy volunteers — meaning they previously answered calls on the traditional Helpline. We also have a small team of paid college-aged staff answering texts to Hey Sam.
(Note: Be sure to read about one of our incredible Hey Sam volunteers, Brooklyn McDermott-Hyland, who at only 20 years old has been volunteering to support those in crisis for more than 5 years!)
What are the plans for Hey Sam in the future?
This first year has been one of great progress for Hey Sam, and we intend to continue enhancing how young people in Massachusetts receive and influence the mental health support available to them. Priorities this year include:
- Staying open until midnight: Hey Sam is currently available from 9am to 9pm, and our busiest time is from 8pm to 9pm in the evening. We believe we could reach 20% more young people by making Hey Sam available until midnight. Samaritans is training additional volunteers and college-aged staff to meet this goal in April.
- Reducing response time: We know how important it is to be connected quickly when someone reaches out for support. To ensure that young people who text Hey Sam get a response right away, we intend to have more volunteers and staff available on each shift to limit wait times.
- Involving young people beyond the text line: Young people can be active partners in preventing suicide and promoting mental health in their communities. That’s why we are recruiting volunteers to serve on a youth advisory board that will guide the decisions we make to reach and support young people.
“I hope that we can teach young people good hygiene around mental health and teach them that it’s okay to talk. It’s okay to feel however you are feeling and it’s okay to share those things,” Mankin said. “I see generational change happening. The future is bright, and I’m glad Hey Sam can be a part of that.”
Help us ensure that Samaritans, Inc. continues to receive the funding and support we need to support young people. If you live in Massachusetts, please contact your state representative and state senator urging them to support full funding of $1.4 Million for Samaritans, Inc. in the FY24 state budget, the same level of funding as the previous year. These funds would ensure Samaritans is able to continue all of our lifesaving suicide prevention programming, including critical support for Hey Sam.