Division of Radiologic Science alumna Amita Bollapragada ’20 began to volunteer with the Crisis Text Line just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Bollapragada, who had an interest in volunteering with the nonprofit prior to the pandemic, said the experience has given her insight as a future health care provider.

Following a 60-hour training, Bollapragada completed her first text conversation as a crisis counselor at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rigorous training included learning from mental health professionals, engaging in simulated conversations, and learning about resources offered by the Crisis Text Line.

During her time at UNC-Chapel Hill, Bollapragada served with UNC Student Government as part of a mental health committee. Both experiences have influenced her interest in psychology, neuroscience, and potentially medical school.

As a student, Bollapragada specialized in MRI and has an interest in functional MRI, or fMRI, which helps providers learn more about a patient’s brain activity, such as emotion.

“I’m so grateful that I found this opportunity to volunteer. I think it’s a perfect way during COVID to give back when we can’t be able to physically be with people,” Bollapragada said.

During a typical four-hour shift, she texts with clients around the world and averages two to three conversations, which typically last 45 minutes or longer. Since the pandemic began, Bollapragada said the Crisis Text Line has experienced an uptick in working with people who face anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

“We focus on identifying their goal and on collaborative problem solving,” she said. “We want to empower them and make sure they are able to handle this and make them feel supported.” In the event of an emergency, Bollapragada is able to contact emergency services, an experience she first had two weeks ago.

While crisis counselors do not know the outcomes of their text conversations with clients, they are able to share resources with them, such as options for long-term counseling. They also discuss coping mechanisms and can orchestrate referrals.

Several of her conversations have also focused on feelings of isolation and domestic violence. According to Crisis Text Line, 75 percent of its clients report isolation, a figure which is up 70 percent from three weeks ago. Similarly, 67 percent feel more anxious than they did prior to the pandemic.

Bollapragada, who is from Cary, North Carolina, hopes to move Atlanta, Georgia, to work at a spine center as a radiologic technologist.

As a future health care provider, Bollapragada said she has learned communication and listening skills, which have instilled empathy.

“It’s given me a more holistic perspective to health care,” Bollapragada said. “Of course, as radiologic science students, we are empathetic and compassionate toward the patients we interact with, but I think this has given me that much more of an understanding of how much else can be going on in a patient’s life.”

Bollapragada said she Crisis Text Line community supports its crisis counselors well; for instance, several counselors reached out to message her well wishes before her first shift. She said the organization also emphasizes self care and gives counselors the opportunity to debrief if they have a tougher conversation with a client.

To reach out to the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741.

The Division of Radiologic Science is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences.