Thousands of people of all ages use a crisis hotline every day, making calls in their most vulnerable moments so a trained counselor can talk them through it and, in extreme cases, try to keep them from committing suicide. But thousands more teenagers don't make this call — they're scared a parent or loved one might hear them, they have phone anxiety, or several other reasons that could keep them from getting help.
DoSomething.org is working to revolutionize crisis lines by creating a nationwide text-messaging hotline that all these people who were too scared to call in the past can reach.
The nonprofit's CEO, Nancy Lublin, was concerned at the number of text messages DoSomething.org was receiving in the inboxes of their other services for teen activists that had to do with suicide, bullying, and even assault. One message in particular was particularly jarring:
"He won't stop raping me. It's my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?"
Lublin's Crisis Text Line, a free 24/7 service, will be launched on August 1 for some United States residents, and hopes to reach everyone in the country by 2014. The project will be entirely funded by donors. It promises a trained counselor will respond to a person's text message within 14 minutes and, if needed, will forward their message to partner organizations like The Trevor Project for LGBT issues or other existing lines that deal with dating and sexual abuse, bullying, depression, and eating disorders.
Pew Internet & American Life Project research concluded that 1 in 4 teens use mostly their cell phone for Internet access, with the average teen sending more than 60 text messages per day.
Katie Locke, now 26, was one of these teens. In a suicidal panic at the age of 18, she remembers calling a crisis hotline she knew from the Internet. It did not offer text service, but she said she would have preferred it.
"People don't always have the [cell phone] minutes or aren't in a position where they can speak aloud if they're in danger from somebody around them," Locke said. "I know for me there were other times when I probably should have called a crisis hotline and didn't because of the anxiety about calling. That was such an enormous barrier, to have to dial a phone number."
Lublin especially likes the secrecy that a text line can bring.
"You could be sitting at a lunch table in the cafeteria being bullied and you could be texting for help while it is happening and no one would know around you," she said. It isn't a coincidence that the timing of Crisis Text Line's release corresponds with the dates that teens will return to school for the fall.
The texting service also addresses the problems that chat lines — where people needing help can instant message a counselor on their computers — can bring, especially when a teen does not have computer or Internet access. Text lines assure that anyone with access to a cell phone can get the help they need from the appropriate source.
Today's teens text — this is not a new fact. But seeing past the annoyance and distractions that text messaging can produce and using this fad to reach out to teens in need is a fantastic idea, and Crisis Text Line's nationwide service will reach out to more people than ever. There is no need for a person looking for help to be uncomfortable seeking it.