The Johnson County Crisis Center is hoping to expand its reach to those struggling with thoughts of suicide by offering an online chat option in Mandarin to help the University of Iowa's growing Chinese student population.
"We didn't just want fluent Mandarin speakers," said Keri Neblett, the Crisis Center's community intervention director. "We wanted someone who knows about the culture and the struggles that international students face — someone who knows the culture clash."
Chinese students make up more than 50 percent of UI's international student population. In fall 2012, there were 2,266 Chinese students enrolled in classes, according to the university's office of international student services and scholars.
The Crisis Center added about 17 Mandarin speaking volunteers last June, after the UI received a grant and worked with the center to identify which minority student population would benefit from the services the most, Neblett said. The volunteers have gone through about 66 hours of training.
Neblett said the center is now working on increasing its outreach efforts to UI as well as the other colleges and universities throughout the state so students are more aware that these services exist.
The Crisis Center has been helping residents since 1970 through crisis intervention counseling, suicide prevention and intervention, supplemental food services, emergency financial assistance, disaster recovery and other community programs. It received more than 10,000 calls and online chats last year, with more than 10 percent relating to suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Iowans 15 to 40 years old, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Rachel Beach, the crisis chat coordinator, said the center began offering the online chat function in 2010, adding that it is a more popular form of communication for young adults and teenagers using the center's services. She said about 75 percent of those contacting the center are under the age of 30 years old.
"The anxiety they have can be lessened through the anonymity of an online chat," she said.
The Crisis Center relies on more than 300 volunteers to operate the Food Bank, 24-Hour Crisis Line and IowaCrisisChat.org. For more information or to apply, visit jccrisiscenter.org or contact Beau Pinkham at 319-351-2726, extension 102.Applications for the food bank are due Feb. 3 and applications for crisis intervention are due Feb. 10.