New Cigna phone line provides mental health support to APS students

“Thank you for calling the Cigna Support Line,” the automated voice says  as a student calls the APS Student Support Line in search of mental health resources. “If you are currently experiencing a life threatening emergency, please hang up and dial 911.”

The Student Support Line exists as a pilot program in Washington-Liberty, Wakefield, Yorktown, Arlington Community High School, Arlington Career Center, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, Langston and New Directions. It is a mental health hotline and it is available 24/7, 365 days a year now through September 30. 

“I think just knowing that you can’t see the other person on the other line [is beneficial],” Clinical Programs Manager Sara DiLeonardo said. “That anonymity can really allow folks to let their guard down a little bit and be vulnerable. So just knowing that it’s not just a trusted adult, per se, but it’s a licensed counselor that’s been in the field for a long long time [helps].” 

Cigna is an insurance company that, after conducting a survey on loneliness in 2018, created the Student Support Line Initiative. The study found that only 53 percent of Americans have meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis. The Cigna Student Support Line planned to open countrywide before 2020, but had stalled due to the pandemic and opened in 2021 instead.

“We [all] find ourselves in our own heads a little bit too much, [and] that can be a dangerous place for some kids,” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “That’s when someone becomes lonely.”

The study found that loneliness can correlate to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Due to this, the employees that answer calls are licensed counselors and experts in crisis management. In fact, the average experience is 15 years in the mental health field.

“Often times we can spiral with questioning friend groups or peer groups or peer pressure,” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “Just being there to let someone know that they’re not alone, to allow someone to feel heard, whatever the situation may be, can really support them.”

Ms. DiLeonardo discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a charted set of requirements discussed in psychology. As you move up the pyramid, the requirements get steeper. The order is physiological needs, safety, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs and self-actualization.

“I encourage folks to exercise, drink plenty of water, eat as healthy as you can so you’re thinking of those basic needs,” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “If you move up the next level, having love and companionship, [even] if it’s not even within your own home or peer group, like finding somebody that lifts you up, that can make you feel better.”

Mental health support is available to staff, parents and students 14 and older. Teachers and parents have called in to inquire about and use the services, but those involved in the hotline hope to spread the message to more high school students.

“It’s really [important] learning those coping skills for when times get tough, because every day something could be a challenge,” Ms. DiLeonardo said, “But it’s how we react and how we work within our control to keep our own mental health in a healthy place.”

But according to her, learning and adopting coping skills is not easy.

“It’s almost as if you were practicing for an instrument or a sport,” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “You’re not going to be perfect every day and you’re not going to learn everything overnight. But as much as you can, practice at things, even as small as doing a couple minutes of mindfulness, every day.”

The Cigna representatives can also connect callers with resources to assist with food and shelter, helping callers find free services in Arlington. The calls can be available in English and Spanish. All calls are completely anonymous with no documentation needed as stated on the APS website.

“I would encourage you also [to call],” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “[The number is] pretty easy to remember,  833-MECIGNA, or 833-6324-462.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year according to Team Georgia. There is support provided for bullying, isolation, and suicidal thoughts via Cigna. 

“There’s a lot of help, Arlington, your schools and the community truly cares,” Ms. DiLeonardo said. “There’s so much out there, and sometimes we just don’t know where to start to look for help, and that’s okay. So, sometimes it’s as simple as just picking up the phone and doing something tangible, or going into your guidance counselor’s office and just saying ‘hi.’”

My Experience

I called the Cigna mental health line to test it out. When I called, I was asked to identify whether I was a student, then connected to an advocate that asked me information. According to the APS website, the phone calls are anonymous and the advocates are only supposed to ask for the school district and age of student. However, I was asked for pieces of additional information including my name, date of birth and school. Students should be aware beforehand that they do not have to give additional information. 

Then, I was told that I would be on hold for a short period of time before being transferred to a counselor. After ten minutes, I realized that I had been disconnected and I had to call the line again. The advocate was very nice and asked for my phone number in case I was disconnected again. This time I waited five minutes before being connected to a counselor.

The counselor that picked up, Angela, was on her first day, and moreover, I was her first call. But she was nice and emphasized that students at the school can call any time of the day to talk about a crisis. She had been licensed for many years, worked as a coach, and had a history in social work. The Cigna employees all work in two hour shifts. She answered all of my questions. 

“No matter what you’re calling about, you are not alone,” Angela, who chose not to reveal her last name, said. “There’s always support out there that we can connect you to.”


Cigna Mental Health Line Number: 833-6324-462

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