At only 20 years old, she is half the age of many, but carries twice the wisdom. She is soft-spoken, but still chooses to enter into difficult conversations in order to be there for those who are struggling. She loves to go on quiet walks along trails in central Massachusetts, but she also loves to walk while guiding dozens of prospective students on tours around her college campus. She is passionate about numbers and everything related to accounting, but she also is double-majoring in psychology because she wants to understand and be a better teammate to the people in her workplace.
Brooklyn McDermott-Hyland is a young woman full of inspiring contrasts. She describes herself as caring, kind, and hardworking — all characteristics that radiate when you speak with her. But those who have the privilege to interact with Brooklyn likely also describe her as bold, courageous, and passionate. After all, Brooklyn is the young girl who signed up to volunteer for Samaritans at only 14 years old — and who was told she had to wait one year before she could start because of her young age. Not only did she wait until 15 to reapply, but Brooklyn has consistently and passionately remained a Samaritans volunteer ever since — 5 years and counting.
A Hey Sam volunteer, Brooklyn says she became passionate about suicide prevention and mental health support after Samaritans came to her school when she was 14 years old.
“I think the thing that shocked me is that I really didn’t understand suicide. I mean, I had heard of suicide, but I didn’t know people my age were losing their life that way,” Brooklyn says. “I remember sitting there and deciding that I wanted to do something about it. It changed my life honestly. They talked about certain warning signs you can see. I wanted to learn more about it and make sure that I would be able to find those warning signs if there were anyone in my life who needed my help.”
And the rest was history. Brooklyn not only became a Samaritans volunteer, but she has immersed herself in the mission wholeheartedly. She has become a mentor to new volunteers. She is a supervisor, meaning she supports the mental health of other volunteers. And she serves as a volunteer both for the traditional 24/7 Helpline and for Hey Sam. Brooklyn is extremely dedicated to our mission. Despite her busy schedule as a college student, she makes time to volunteer one whole day each week, volunteering from 7am to 9pm for a total of 10 volunteer hours.
As one of the original Hey Sam volunteers who also served on the traditional Helpline prior to working with Hey Sam, Brooklyn says that serving as a volunteer for Hey Sam has felt particularly meaningful to her.
“What shocked me the most is how I have been through similar things and how I’ve felt the exact same things that people are texting me about,” Brooklyn says. “I’m surprised by how much I have been able to connect with them. It feels so natural for me to connect with them at that level, and I love it.”
Brooklyn says that the topics that young people want to discuss are varied and quite different from what she tends to hear about on the Helpline. She has talked with peers who are struggling in their relationship with their parents, others who are facing bullying or cyberbullying, and still others who describe feeling trapped when they are at home and see their peers with plans during Spring Break. But she says that no matter how big or small the challenge, the root to helping anyone through a struggle is to care.
“We can teach you the skills. We can teach you how to ask open-ended questions and how to validate feelings. But truly caring is the biggest thing you can do,” Brooklyn says. “If you can show them you are listening and that you truly hear what they are saying, that’s what they are looking for. They are looking for that connection.”
Brooklyn explains that one of the most difficult consequences for young people who do not feel heard and connected is seeing them withdraw.
“When you don’t have good mental health, it’s hard to take part in other things in your life because it affects everything,” she says. “If you are depressed, you can’t fully enjoy your college experience. You are not able to make connections with others. You are not able to plan for the future. Your mental health can hold you back completely.”
Brooklyn also says that one thing she notices is that teens often believe they have to process their feelings on their own, which she says is a mistake and can be too heavy of a burden to bear. She remembers one conversation with a teen girl who was facing relentless cyberbullying from students at her school.
“She was texting me and was sobbing. It was so hard to hear that someone would say these things about this girl. She was such a sweet girl,” Brooklyn describes. “When I asked her if she had told anyone what she was going through, she said she had a single father and didn’t want to burden him because he faced a lot of stress himself. She essentially kept it all inside. She was holding on to those feelings by herself. I am so grateful to have been there when she really needed it, and I’m so glad Hey Sam was there to help her through one of her lowest moments. Hearing her tell me that she appreciated me for listening to her has been one of my proudest moments as a volunteer so far. The ‘thanks’ at the end of the text conversation makes me know I’m making a difference.”
When asked where she sees herself in five years, Brooklyn doesn’t hesitate a second when giving her response.
“I see myself continuing with Samaritans on top of my career,” she says decidedly. “Some people question that because I’m going to be working long hours at accounting. But volunteering at Samaritans has been the most important experience of my life. It has taught me so much. It has taught me how to validate people’s feelings in my own life. It has made me a better listener. It has made me able to identify if someone feels left out or that their voice isn’t heard. Every time I’ve done a shift, I feel I’ve made a difference. I’ve been a support to someone that day. It’s one of the most feel-good things you can have in your life.”
Brooklyn says that when she thinks about the future of Hey Sam, her hope is that Samaritans can reach a large enough audience that any young person can feel like they can reach out. She also wants young people to know and believe that they can reach out even if they aren’t feeling suicidal. She wants them to view Hey Sam as a place to talk things through and get support.
“The world needs to know that mental health struggles are not just something where you can say, “Okay, I don’t want that anymore,” and that it just goes away,” she explains with clear passion in her voice. “Mental health truly affects people and every aspect of their life. It is one of the most important things. I want people to be more understanding of the people in their lives who are experiencing mental health struggles. I want people to stop minimizing others’ pain.”
Brooklyn continues, “I want people to know I chose this path — and so has every other Hey Sam volunteer. We are passionate, and we care. And we are always here to listen and offer support whenever you need it — no matter how big or how small you think what you are going through is.”
If you would like to become a Hey Sam or Helpline volunteer like Brooklyn, fill out a volunteer inquiry form, and someone from our Samaritans team will reach out to you.