Md. stress line helps with the strain of holidays

December 20, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Keeshee Zega was having problems with her two special needs children.

Counseling helped in some respects. But it wasn't until she took a course provided by The Family Tree, a statewide child abuse prevention agency, that all of her parenting skills came together, providing an "extra edge" in dealing with her kids.

So successful was her experience that Zega, of Towson, Md., decided to give back. Now she volunteers 94 hours a month as an operator for The Family Tree's Family Stress Line.

"When you can point out their own successes then they feel they aren't a waste, they feel they aren't a total loss," Zega says. "Someone else has been there. They can turn this thing around. ... Sometimes that attitude change is the most important thing."


The holiday season should be more special than stressful. But when tempers run short, loneliness emerges or life just gets you down, The Family Tree's hot line is a branch extended to pull you up again.

The 24-hour, year-round resource allows Maryland callers to speak with trained volunteers about their problems. Each operator is equipped with a mammoth directory stuffed with statewide resources to provide help when issues can not be solved in the course of a single phone conversation.

Established in 1975, 50 professionally trained volunteers undergo 15 hours of training to field calls. While no subject is taboo, says Family Tree Assistant Director of Community Service Sue Bull, roughly half of all callers want to talk about out-of-control teens.

"It's really important that they have something there for them at their fingertips," Bull says. "It's very easy to pick up the telephone. It takes courage, but it's confidential."

The alternative is letting anger get the best of you, perhaps with violent results and lasting consequences. Averaging 6,000 calls a year, Bull says the volume increases during the holidays because of the pressures involved in the season.

"Kids are home more, people are just generally stressed due to the holiday stress, they're less patient," she says. "When you're not able to really meet your own needs it's very hard to meet the needs of your kids."

Betty Demmler, past president of Maryland Association for Counseling and Development and a member of the American Counseling Association, has worked with similar hotlines and says their importance can not be underestimated.

"It's just immeasurable to that person on the other end of the line," she says. "You can really help people get a perspective of where they are."

A stress line volunteer for more than two years, Zega says that for every call that ends with her unsure of her impact there is another where she can see immediate results in a caller's attitude.

Sometimes, her job is as simple as reassuring the voice on the other end of the line that they're not alone.

"A lot of times people feel no one else knows what they're going through, no one's ever been down that road. There are no alternatives and they don't know how to make another step," Zega says. "Even though there are no magic answers, even though there are no solutions, there are still people who have been through that and understand. (It makes them) feel like there is a chance for them."

If there is one burden facing the stress line, Bull says it is spreading word of its existence. She welcomes more callers; it means more people are seeking help than letting their emotions spiral out of control unchecked.

"It's a much better choice to pick up the phone," she says. "Before you get to the end of your line, call ours."

Family Stress Line


Available 24-hours a day, seven days a week

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