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Text to get the message across
Irish Times 14/08/2007

by Brid Higgins Ni Chinneide

Young people are more likely to look for support services through their own medium - the text message, according to research carried out by Rehab. "Young people are more familiar with mobile phones and figures show that in Ireland there is 112 per cent mobile phone penetration," Colette Ryan, suicide prevention manager at Rehab said yesterday.

Her organisation launched a text message information service yesterday. The new service, called "Headsup", was made available before tomorrow's Leaving Cert Exam results, which is a particularly difficult time for young people, according to Rehab.

Headsup targets young people, but is available to people of any age. The service provides a text-message list of contact numbers for support services and helplines that deal with issues such as sexuality, suicide and addiction. Ms Ryan said the new service was an innovative way of reaching out to young people and that it covered a wide range of topics.

"We have looked at research that shows that young people don't know where to go for help. We talked to young people and they told us that a text message service was definitely something that they would use." The service asks the user to select a topic from a list of 12 different categories of emotional and practical problems. It then provides a selection of support service numbers that relate to the selected issue.

Organisations such as The Samaritans, Bodywhys, HIV helpline and Console are represented in the service. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) welfare officer, Peader Hayes, agreed that young people were often unaware of what services were available. "The fact is that people don't really pay attention to these services until they need them. This is a fantastic initiative because a text service will provide the anonymity that young people want when they are facing difficult problems," he said.

Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House suicide prevention service, also welcomed the initiative and said that it was particularly suitable for young people. " This provides a service for people on their own terms," she said. "People comtemplating suicides often send text messages so it's good that this service should be available in text message form, because texting is often an instant way of making a cry for help," she explained. The Samaritans have also found that young people are more likely to access help via text message. The organisation is conducting a pilot programme of a live support service that they hope to launch in Ireland and the UK next year and Suzanne Costello, director of the Samaritans in Ireland, said her organisation had been "overwhelmed with the reaction.

The Samaritans' 24-hour helpline number is: 1850 609090 and support service information can be obtained by texting the word "headsup" to 50424.