Texting That Saves Lives
Hotlines are available for at-risk teens via toll-free numbers and live chat, but the #1 preferred form of communication for young people is SMS. We reach teens in the setting they are most comfortable in. Crisis Text Line (CTL), now in its beta version, is a way for teens who need help to use their mobile phones to access free support 24/7.
Crisis centers face significant challenges when trying to reach teens:
1. It’s difficult to follow-up with teens. Teens can be hard to reach, in order to make sure they receive the follow-up care they need. They are particularly reluctant to reach out for help in-person.
2. Privacy is hard to secure using existing methods. Phone calls aren't discreet. Social media is inherently public.
3. Hotlines are becoming less relevant for young people as teens shy away from phone use. In 2009, only 30-38% of teens used phones every day.
4. Many teens have limited web access. 12% of teens have no access to the Internet at home, and another 10% have only dial-up Internet. These teens often rely on shared computers in schools and in public libraries, which makes it difficult for the "live chat" offered by many hotlines to reach these teens.
Our solution is beautifully simple.
1. Provide crisis intervention services and referrals to teens through texting with live, trained counselors.
2. Text messages offer a discreet, familiar, and accessible form of communication for teens. This gives teens with any mobile phone with SMS capability the ability to access support through CTL.
3. Our empathetic messages are reviewed by mental health experts as well as rigorously A/B tested. We're continuing to evolve the language and approach we use in a thoughtful and nuanced way, in order to better deliver emotional support via SMS.
4. We conduct data analysis of follow-up messages, strategies, and outcomes for teens, which can lead to innovations that will improve prevention, support and long-term care.
CTL is innovative in three ways: it will reach more teens than ever before, bring a data-informed approach to crisis services, and provide follow-up support that will ultimately reduce teens' need for mental health services.
Because CTL will be the nation’s first free, 24/7 text messaging hotline, it has the opportunity to reach more teens than ever before. For teens, texting is the number one form of digital communication; according to the Pew Research Center, the average teen now exchanges over 5,000 texts per month. Also, texting is private; through CTL, teens can access help without fear of family or classmates overhearing them. We're also working on secure messaging, to ensure that only the teen sees the messages from their conversation with CTL.
What moves CTL from a good idea to a great idea is the data. CTL will have the largest database on teens in crisis in the country, which will be used to inform academic research and practitioner interventions and to measure the effectiveness of our programs. While sharing data, teens' privacy is our number one concern. To protect teens' personal information, CTL will follow privacy guidelines instituted at the University of Michigan's ICPSR (Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research), the world's largest archive of computer-based data for the social sciences.
Finally, in a way never before possible via phone call or online chat, CTL will be able to engage with teens who use our service in the long-term - to assess how they are feeling and to provide ongoing support when needed. Ultimately, this will reduce teens' need for long-term mental health services, thus reducing strain on an already stretched system.
- Who is working on the project? Who are your partners?
- How do you know there is demand for this project?
- How is your project different from what already exists?
- How will the data or information you use or create be made open?
- What will you make or do in this project?
- How can others learn from/build on what you do?
- How much do you think it will cost?
- How would you use News Challenge funds?
- Who are the users of your project, and what have you learned from them so far?
- They state facts and by the third text we usually identify the issue at hand
- They're comfortable with text. Not one user has asked us to speak on the phone
- Anxiety is most prominent on Wednesdays, followed by Sunday.
- Because we use text, 1 counselor can have a conversation with 3-5 texters as one time
- Auto-populating post-conversation forms makes for an enjoyable process
- Sharing counselor specific data is motivational
- What are the obstacles to implementing the idea and how will you adress them?
- High demand - a great obstacle to have, we're focused on scaling this year. We're curretly reasessing our partnership model.
- Repeat texters - we exist to help teens in crisis, not serve as primary or ongoing care. We're adressing this with comprehensive testing and exploration of comps.
- Continued quality - we're scaling strategically, with input from our Board of Directors and Advisory Board in order to maintain our excellence and high quality of care.
- How will you spread the word about your project?
- Influencers- Youtube personalities with engaged followings
- Corporations - We'll work with corporate partners looking for employee volunteer opportunities to recruit, select, train, and engage remote counselors for our volunteer program
- Local enterprises - We'll team up with university and city programs to create cohorts of local counselors.