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Culture & Religion

Crisis Hotline Responds to Troubled Text Messages

Crisis counsellors are speaking directly to young people where they are most comfortable communicating, in a text message.

Crisis counsellors are speaking directly to young people where they are most comfortable communicating, in a text message. That means more care is given to those in need and, ultimately, more lives are saved from tragedy.

The Crisis Text Line is the first and only 24/7 crisis hotline that conducts its conversations exclusively by text message. It’s all about making the interaction simple and genuine, says the organization’s CEO Nancy Lublin, who is as much a tech entrepreneur as she is a social services advocate.

When someone sends CTL an emotionally sensitive text, a vast team of well-trained responders is at the ready, guaranteeing a response within five minutes of the text. Responders emphasize listening, asking questions in a casual way to assess the circumstances (essential in cases where the person may be contemplating self-harm or suicide), and speaking with authority rather than tiptoeing around taboo subjects. 

Ronald Dixon, MD, is an associate medical director and director of the Virtual Practice Pilot at Massachusetts General Hospital. He explains how technology can be used to create more personal relationships between medical professionals and patients:

“In any culture, whether you have a shaman or a physician, the basis of the care is the relationship between the person delivering and providing the care, and the patient. We seem to think that technology does have some potential, a lot of potential. … Imagine if we enable patients … to rate their depression scores at home and then send those to the provider, and then have an assessment over video conferencing, which is shown to be effective for a lot of psychiatric issues, have that assessment and follow up or video conferencing.”

In the case of crisis management, text messaging is an especially appropriate form. Young people are the most likely age group to experience difficult circumstances; they typically lack a network of mature friends, or enough personal perspective, to deal with crises effectively.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research have also found that people are more likely to divulge personal information via text message than over the phone.

Text messaging is silent so it affords a level of privacy that voice cannot provide. If you are hiding from an abusive relative or fear the stigma of being overheard, sending a text in public is safer than a phone call. And texting is less embarrassing since you don’t have to listen to your own voice disclose what are likely extremely difficult secrets. 

Read more at the The New Yorker.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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