Twice in my life I tried seeking help when I was feeling suicidal: once from an in-person counselor, and once from a phone based hotline. Both services failed to provide the support I needed, and I left the experience feeling just as bad, if not worse. Thanks to mobile technology and one great idea, we now have another option — Crisis Text Line — and they need volunteers who can text, particularly late at night, since peak crisis hours are between 8pm and 4am.
How it works: anyone in the midst of any kind of crisis sends a text to 741741. It can start with any words, like ‘hello,’ ‘help,’ or ‘I’m scared.’ A Crisis Counselor immediately responds — 24x7 — with confidential support. A crisis can fall into a wide range of categories like family problems, school bullying, drug use, depression, or abuse. It’s all anonymous, it’s encrypted, and it’s free. Crisis Counselors can be anywhere as long as they have a computer and an Internet connection.
Volunteer Crisis Counselors go through background checks and receive 34 hours of online training to learn how to validate texters’ emotions, help problem solve, and move texters from frightening moments of crisis to a calmer state. The Crisis Text Line database helps the counselors identify key words that are related to certain types of crises. For example, the combined use of ‘numbs’ and ‘sleeve’ indicates a likely cutting problem. Crisis Text Line also aggregates the data to identify trends, i.e. the worst day of the week for eating disorders is Monday.
Crisis Counselors also have a wide range of resources at their disposal to connect people in a crisis with the help they need moving forward. If someone needs help with substance abuse, the Crisis Counselors know which drug clinics are located near the texter. And Crisis Counselors can apply the skills they develop in their own relationships and in their communities, spreading the value of the service beyond texting.
In the four years since Crisis Text Line launched, they have exchanged over 40 million messages with people in crisis, and they’ve built the largest real-time mental health data set in the world at crisistrends.org. Meanwhile, use of Crisis Text Line is growing in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area, where they have local advisors like me who help get the word out about their important work. They’re partnering with companies like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to make sure users who search ‘suicide’ or post a concerning status update will be prompted to connect with a Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line also works with physical locations like the Golden Gate Bridge, the number one site of suicide in the nation, to add signs with Crisis Text Line's number all over the bridge.
So please spread the word. Crisis Text Line is an incredibly helpful service available to anyone who needs it, any time. And if you’re interested in becoming a Crisis Counselor, just sign up to learn more about volunteering. The goal of Crisis Text Line is to respond to every texter in under 5 minutes. In order to achieve that, they need more help — especially from West Coasters and night owls. If you can type, you can help.