Impact Journalism Day by Sparknews: A better society - No. 29

Text-based hotline fills gap in mental health care for teenagers

Through the volume of conversations, Crisis Text Line has gained insights into hard-to-quantify mental health topics.
Through the volume of conversations, Crisis Text Line has gained insights into hard-to-quantify mental health topics.PHOTO: USA TODAY

NEW YORK • The hardest part for Ms Lily Rayne was feeling alone.

Ms Rayne is deaf and did not grow up with sign language. When she had suicidal thoughts, she could not communicate or sign with a trained professional or a therapist. Nor could she pick up a phone to call a crisis hotline.

Years later, she ran across a service that would have eased her sense of isolation in those dark hours: Crisis Text Line, which has brought the 1-800 support line into the age of texting.

Trained counsellors, of whom Ms Rayne is now one, are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to people in need with SMS texts. The texts are anonymous and confidential.

The organisation's founder Nancy Lublin got the idea when teenagers started to text her staff about issues such as depression and rape.

 

Although hotlines have helped people in crisis for decades, communication methods have evolved. In the age of Snapchat and WhatsApp, talking on the phone can seem awkward or uncomfortable.

In 2013, Ms Lublin, the CEO at a teenage outreach organisation called DoSomething.org, and her team sensed the shift in tech habits and started providing crisis counselling via text messaging.

Teens on average receive and send about 30 text messages a day, according to a Pew Research Centre study.

Through the volume of conversations, Crisis Text Line has gained insights into hard-to-quantify mental health topics.

"The biggest surprise is how the deaf and hard of hearing have flocked to us. But not only as texters but also as crisis counsellors," Ms Lublin said.

The service has more than 30 hearing-impaired counsellors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Text-based hotline fills gap in mental health care for teenagers'. Print Edition | Subscribe