New Counseling Service Harnesses Text Messaging

How DoSomething.Org Harnesses Text Messaging to Support Troubled Youth

 

In 2011, a young woman named Stephanie Shih was working in New York City at DoSomething.org, a nonprofit that helps young people start volunteer campaigns. Shih was responsible for sending out text messages to teen-agers across the country, alerting them to various altruistic opportunities and encouraging them to become involved in their local communities: running food drives, organizing support groups, getting their cafeterias to recycle more. Silly, prankish responses were not uncommon, but neither were messages of enthusiasm and thanks.

Then, in August, after six months on the job, Shih received a message that left her close to tears for the rest of the day. “He won’t stop raping me,” it said. “He told me not to tell anyone.” A few hours later, another message came: “R u there?” Shih wrote back, asking who was doing this. The next day, a response came in: “It’s my dad.”

DoSomething.org had no protocol for anything like this, so Shih texted back with the contact information for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual-assault organization. But the texter indicated that she was too scared to make a phone call. “This is the right thing to do,” Shih insisted. There was no reply. “Not knowing if she was safe or had gotten help or would ever get help consumed my thoughts,” Shih told me last fall. She printed out the text messages and handed them to her boss, Nancy Lublin, DoSomething.org’s C.E.O.

“I’ll never forget the day,” Lublin said. “It was like I’d been punched in the stomach.”

That week, Lublin and Shih started work on what two years later became Crisis Text Line, the first and only national, 24/7 crisis-intervention hotline to conduct its conversations (the majority of which are with teen-agers) exclusively by text message.

 

Text Message Hotline, One to One Texting, Crisis Management, Teen Crisis, Text Messaging for Operations

 

How it Works:

Individuals can contact  Crisis Text Line  by texting in to 741741. They receive a confirmation message and a link to the organization’s privacy policy and compliance information.  The incoming messages are seen by counselors at the Crisis Text Line in a computer system. They receive an average of 15,000 texts per day, and the system looks for messages containing words that might indicate possible danger, such as “suicide,” “kill,” and “hopeless.” The counselors on duty use the system to text back to the troubled young people. They continue the conversation by getting clarify through open-ended questions.

 

The Impacts: 

The Crisis Text Line provides a one-to-one style texting chat service to those in need who are too scared or uncomfortable to call. Teens are shockingly honest via text message, so this organization has opened doors for honest communication.

Beyond the one-to-one counseling, the organization has gathered the content of the messages and quantified the results to deliver a unique collection of mental-health data based on five million texts. Their data collection has given the world insights such as “depression peaks at 8 p.m., anxiety at 11 p.m., self-harm at 4 a.m., and substance abuse at 5 a.m.”

“The corpus of data has the volume, velocity, and variety to really draw meaningful conclusions,” says Nancy Lubin. She hopes that the data can eventually be useful to school districts and police departments.

 

 

 

 

This is an excerpt from the article R U There by Alice Gregory in The New Yorker. See the original article here.