This month has been one of great excitement for us because we were able to launch a new support service designed specifically for young people! 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. We are so thrilled that we are now able to provide dedicated support to the young people in our community.
What few people know though, is that the momentum behind this much-needed support service was actually started by someone outside of Samaritans. Senator Rebecca L. Rausch approached our organization with the idea last year after listening to young people in a town hall forum she had hosted.
We sat down with Senator Rausch to learn more about what motivated her to act so quickly and so boldly to address the mental well-being of our youth.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Senator Rausch. Let’s start our conversation with something fun first. I believe that everyone has a superpower. What would you say is your superpower?
I think I’d have to say energy. I have more energy than most people have, and that has been very useful to me as I do this work.
How did you become convinced that a program like Hey Sam was necessary in Massachusetts?
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 supports. They wanted it in an accessible way where their privacy could be maintained. They were worried about using the structures in their schools to get support – and in fact in some cases worried to the extent of turning it down even when they knew they needed mental health support. They said ‘no’ when it was offered to them because they were worried it would be reported back to their parents. They need space. They need space to be able to talk freely. That night, my staff and I huddled immediately afterward to figure out what we were going to do to address this problem.
How did you decide that a text support line was the best channel to support young people?
Because they don’t have to talk out loud. Most young people don’t get a lot of space that is entirely for themselves. If they want to be raw and forthcoming, where are they going to go? They need to be able to do something in private. Texting is the best way for them to be able to do that.
And why do you believe it is important to have young people answering the Hey Sam text line?
The chances are you are going to get a great level of understanding and compassion from someone who is going through the same experiences in life as you are.
Beyond what you heard at your youth forum, why do you believe that a support system like Hey Sam is so needed in Massachusetts right now?
The data is pretty clear well above and beyond anecdotal stories. Our young people are facing stressors that most of us couldn’t even envision when we were kids. Social media is stressful even as a grown-up. It can sting. Young people are in a world where information comes fast and furious and peer pressure comes from everywhere. You are never shielded from it. And it’s on top of all of the stressors that we already had as kids.
Why did you decide to approach and partner with Samaritans even over other organizations that you could have worked with?
Samaritans has a track record that is many decades long here in Massachusetts. They are a household name for delivering critical mental health supports. I had the privilege of working with them closely prior to our partnership for the youth text line; my team and I brought them to Beacon Hill during the pandemic (well, virtually!) to teach legislators and their staff about the warning signs of suicide and how to support people during the pandemic. Their briefing was phenomenal. When it came to figuring out who could lead this project inspired by my constituents, it was a no-brainer.
What is your hope for Hey Sam?
I hope that it helps even one person. I know that we are already getting contacts each day, and it just started – and it’s already getting used! That’s how you know it’s going to work.
Why do you believe it’s important that we make it easier and more accepted for people to talk about their mental health struggles and experiences?
The more you bottle it up, the worse it gets. I don’t know a single person who isn’t stressed out about something. The more we are able to embrace the normalcy and accept the normalcy of struggle, the better equipped we will be to handle it individually, and frankly, the more compassionate communities we will be able to build.
What role has mental health played in your life?
I’m an ambitious person. I set high goals and high standards – largely driven by wanting to be helpful. That can carry a lot of stress. If you are really doing the job as a legislator, it’s hard work. I try to be conscious that rest is also part of the work.
If you had the opportunity to speak to young people through this article, what would you want to say?
You’re not alone. Everybody – grown-ups and young people alike – have struggles with mental wellness. It is not only okay, but encouraged to reach out and talk to somebody. And a lot of somebodies are there – whether it’s through Hey Sam or otherwise.
Thank you, Senator Rausch, for helping us secure the funding to make Hey Sam a reality.
Hey Sam is a support line for young people, staffed by young people. Any young person can text 1-877-832-0890, and a peer volunteer will be on the other end to listen at anytime from 9am to 9pm. You are not alone.