HOUGHTON - People in the Upper Peninsula have a new way to reach out for help.
Recently, Dial Help launched a text messaging service for people in crisis.
When someone sends a text message from a cellphone to 906-356-3337 (NEEDS), it goes to a Dial Help live crisis specialist. Through a secure, Web-based program, the specialist texts back and forth with the other person. The line is accessible 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., 365 days a year.
"I had heard about other centers in other parts of the country that had started similar programs specifically to reach out to teenagers who are more likely to text message than call," said Eliisa Laitila, crisis unit manager for Dial Help.
Dial Help already uses a similar tool: Its online live chat on dialhelp.org, which launched in 2010. But the cellphone texting has become prevalent enough to merit its own section; a Pew study in 2010 found 88 percent of teens use text messaging.
Through the U.P. Suicide Prevention Coalition, Laitila found out there was local interest. The United Way of Marquette County provided critical funding to begin the text messaging service, while the Copper Country and Dickinson County United Ways also provided crisis helpline funding allowing Dial Help to improve its service.
The text-messaging service went online the last week of August, Laitila said.
"It has been used, which we consider a success so far, if we have helped even one person with it," she said.
Dial Help representatives have been attending several Suicide Prevention Week events to promote the service, which is available U.P.-wide, Laitila said.
Outreach efforts will start this year for funding to maintain the service permanently. For more information or to donate, go to dialhelp.org.