Program helps Arizona teens connect with peers who are dealing with mental health crisis

Jun 21, 2023, 4:35 AM

FILE - A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019.  People in crisis and those trying to...

FILE - A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. People in crisis and those trying to help them will have a new three-digit number, 988, to reach the national suicide prevention network starting in July. Federal health officials on Monday are announcing more than $280 million to smooth the transition from the current 10-digit number. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

PHOENIX — Arizona-based suicide prevention nonprofit, “Teen Lifeline,” is implementing a first-of-its-kind program that it hopes will save children’s lives.

The “Caring Contacts” program has been around for decades helping adults to prevent suicide attempts and mental health crisis intervention, but this is the first time a peer-to-peer program has been used for kids younger than 18 years old.

Nikki Kontz, clinical director for “Teen Lifeline,” said in an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM that similar adult programs have drastically decreased suicide deaths and additional hospitalizations.

Kontz said trained teenage volunteers reach out to other teens who have been discharged from the hospital following a suicide attempt to check in and offer support.

Teens who have undergone a mental health crisis can opt into the program while in the hospital and peer counselors will reach out within 24-48 hours and have regular contact for a year.

“It’s always contact from a peer counselor who’s their own age, who knows what it’s like to be a teen, but someone just to say ‘Hey, I’m rooting for you. If you need someone to talk, I’m here. You’re not alone, even when things are really scary,” Kontz said in an interview.

Kontz said this allows teens who are struggling with mental health issues to feel more comfortable and speak openly.

“There’s a natural rapport that comes between two teenagers talking that’s much harder for an adult and a teen to build. So, that natural connection that exists for them is often times so huge, especially coming out of a crisis,” Kontz said.

The program is free to use and is funded through Mercy Care. To learn more about this program or receive support, call the Teen Lifeline hotline at (602) 248-8336 or visit:

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Program helps Arizona teens connect with peers who are dealing with mental health crisis