Helpline“Kids make fun of me. Sometimes I feel so alone.”

“Sometimes I cut myself but I’m not sure why.”

“My boyfriend and I had sex, but now I regret it. Will he respect my decision to abstain?”

We all know that many of our students are dealing with issues such as bullying, self-injury and sexuality. But until now, we may not have known about one place we could send them for help.

2NDFLOOR is a helpline serving all youth and young adults, ages 10 to 24, in New Jersey. The 24-7 helpline is free, confidential and anonymous and Spanish-speaking services are available from 4 to 10 p.m. every day. It is staffed by professionals and trained volunteers who range in age from 18 to 65. The helpline is supervised at all times by a mental health professional.

In addition to the helpline, 2NDFLOOR also operates a website featuring a message board and other resources. All of these services are a program of 180 Turning Lives Around, Inc., a non-profit, charitable organization in operation since 1976 and headquartered in Monmouth County. The name 2NDFLOOR was chosen as a result of a 2004 focus group of teens who reported that young people feel safest in their bedrooms, which are most often located upstairs.

 “Students frequently confide in teachers, but teachers don’t always know how to respond,” notes Nicole Romaine-Settembrino, director of development for 2NDFLOOR and a former sixth and       seventh-grade English teacher. “Educators can recommend the helpline or the online message board with confidence.”

Phone counselors at 2NDFLOOR have held over 400,000 conversations with New Jersey’s youth since the helpline was launched statewide in September 2008. Currently, the helpline receives approximately 10,000 calls per month.

How does the helpline work?

When children call 2NDFLOOR at 888-222-2228, they receive understanding, nonjudgmental and caring responses that can ease their concerns and worries. They are encouraged to make decisions that promote their safety and well-being. They are assisted with their daily life challenges—whatever they may be—by professional staff and trained volunteers.

“The helpline serves as a great catchall,” explains Romaine. “Kids don’t have to identify their problem and then decide where to go with it. There is one phone number no matter what their difficulty.”

In addition to the topics described above, callers have also asked for guidance on:2nd Floor

  • Evaluating daily choices.
  • Coping with the aftermath of divorce.
  • Experiencing racism.
  • Living with a disability.
  • Feeling sadness over the death of a loved one.
  • Fears about gang violence.
  • Concerns over bullying and peer pressure.
  • Worries about family conflicts.

This list may identify the subject of a great number of calls, but teens can expect assistance with any dilemma. The young people who call are able to problem solve and role play with the helpline staff as they tackle whatever challenges they are facing. Young people often call 2NDFLOOR to share a concern and “rehearse” what they might say to adults and peers in their lives. In a non-judgmental manner, 2NDFLOOR staff practice “active/reflective” listening to help them resolve problems and conflicts.

Anonymity and confidentiality are assured except in life-threatening situations. When receiving such an emergency phone call, 2NDFLOOR staff will initiate emergency call-trace procedures (within the capability of currently available technology) for police intervention or will contact the N.J. Child Abuse Hotline (DYFS) in cases of child abuse.

2NDFLOOR does not provide psychotherapy/professional counseling and does not provide access to assistance in a medical or other emergency. Callers are instructed to dial 911 in such cases.

Website offers additional resources

The 2NDFLOOR youth helpline incorporates an interactive website, 2NDFLOOR.org, which features surveys and a message board that allows young people to raise issues and get answers online. Because it’s easier to get to the heart of a problem, 2NDFLOOR encourages students to call rather than post (every response ends with the helpline number and an offer for more assistance over the phone). In some cases, however, a visit to the message board is the first step to reaching out for help. All posts receive a response within 24 hours.

A recent post to 2NDFLOOR’s message board illustrates one young girl’s struggle with her father’s drinking problem.

“My dad drinks about five-six glasses starting around 6 p.m. At parties it's more. My dad never gets abusive physically or verbally….I just don't understand he's always been my safe place but now I feel like I don't have a safe place….I want to talk to a person at school about this but I'm afraid that he'll find out.”

Here was the response from 2NDFLOOR:

“Alcoholism is an illness that needs to be treated professionally just like any other illness. While it's not possible to diagnosis someone based on a message board post, it is possible for you to tell your father that you are concerned about his drinking. If you're not comfortable talking to him about it, show him this post and let him read how concerned you are for him. Alcoholism is also something that a person needs to decide on their own that they want help with, so even if you do tell him how you feel, it is no guarantee that his behavior will change. Call us anytime to discuss further at 888-222-2228.”

The website also offers resources for children and young adults as well as information for adults interested in volunteering.  Any adult can become a volunteer after an extensive background check and 40 hours of training.

Youth are encouraged to voice their concerns to adults

2NDFLOOR can be a bridge to better communication because young people do not always turn to their parents or other adults with a problem.  If for any reason, the young person believes he/she cannot reach out to someone in the family, resources are provided inside and outside the school system and community.

“I always encourage students to go to adults first,” explains Kelly Zuzic, a student assistance coordinator in Toms River. “But I also tell them about 2NDFLOOR. A student who recently lost her mom to cancer told me she called the helpline one night because she needed someone to talk to. I was happy to hear our students are using the tools we provide.”

The helpline is meant to be a prevention tool before issues become a crisis. The helpline offers a way to relieve some of the pressures and daily challenges that affect young people today. By listening carefully to the needs and concerns of callers, 2NDFLOOR can contribute to earlier intervention and improve the quality of their lives.

Youth advisors provide input, promote available services

Thanks to educators who serve as ambassadors for the program, 2NDFLOOR has connected with groups of youth advisors from around the state. These Youth Advisory Councils provide input on the services offered . They contribute to the development of surveys and website design.  Most important, they promote the helpline and website to their peers and sometimes even respond to message board posts.

“Usually these councils come from student groups that have already been organized in the school, such as peer leaders or a service club,” Romaine-Settembrino reports. She or a member of her staff holds monthly or bi-monthly meetings with these student groups and their faculty. Currently, 2NDFLOOR is working with five school districts in New Jersey.

“Our students and staff are very happy to let everyone know about 2NDFLOOR,” says Angela Germano, a language arts teacher at Freehold Intermediate School. “It’s the first place our students turn when they don’t feel comfortable speaking with an adult.”

Germano is advisor to her school’s National Junior Honor Society, which promotes 2NDFLOOR. She believes that the helpline also makes it easier for young people to understand they are not the only one dealing with life’s challenges. “Students see how useful it is for their peers and it makes them feel good to tells others about this wonderful service.”

Student Assistance Counselor Mary Gillespie, from the Middle School of Pleasantville, says that 2NDFLOOR trained her peer mediators and now these students spread the word about the helpline. “We all benefit when students support each other, either by offering to go with someone when they speak to an adult about a problem or by suggesting a call to 2NDFLOOR.”

To learn more about 2NDFLOOR, request materials, or to find out how you can help, visit www.2NDFLOOR.org. If you are interested in becoming a faculty liaison or forming a Youth Advisory Council in your district, email Danielle Pezza, 2NDFLOOR’s outreach coordinator, at daniellep@180nj.org.