CRISIS TEXT LINE
CRISIS TEXT LINE, A NONPROFIT FOUNDED BY NANCY LUBLIN AND DEDICATED TO UTILIZING TECH AND DATA TO HELP THOSE IN CRISIS, IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE RAPID EVOLUTION OF DIGITAL CIVIL SOCIETY. THE ARTICLE EXPLORES GLOBAL MENTAL HEALTH, THE PROFOUND REACH OF THE INTERNET, AND HOW THE PERVASIVENESS OF TECH MAY BE USED TO HELP OUR COMMUNITIES, INCREASE AWARENESS, AND UNDERSCORE COMPASSION.
Before founding Crisis Text Line, Lublin helmed DoSomething.org, from 2003 until 2015. Like Crisis Text Line, DoSomething is primarily a texting service interested in how tech can be used to promote activism and social change. With the ease of staying connected digitally, DoSomething was incredibly successful with young people who wanted to be clued in to what kind of service they could be doing in their communities and beyond. DoSomething was founded with the mission to harness the growing spirit of activism amongst young people. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, since 1994 (notably, this is when millennials first entered the data pool) 25% more youths, ages 16-20 years old have stepped up to volunteer. DoSomething, with their 6 million members, has profound reach. As the organization is text based, they receive innumerable messages from members who write in asking for personal help. “There’s one message that really started it all,” Lublin says. “We got this message that was just so much darker and felt so much…like a punch in the gut. It said, he won’t stop raping me, it’s my dad, he told me not to tell anyone. And then the letters, U there?” Stunned, they right away responded with the number for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. But they never heard back from the texter. This was seven years ago, and Lublin has tried and tried in vain to reach the individual. The experience, though painful, clued her into something important: people in crisis, particularly young people, needed a place in which they could text in and receive instant help. That brave, disquieting text set an innovative organization in motion. “I really don’t know anything about that person,” Lublin says.
“WE’RE GETTING THEM IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT, INSTEAD OF HOURS LATER WHEN THEY HAVE A QUIET TIME TO CALL OR MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH A COUNSELOR. IT’S PRIVATE AND ANONYMOUS AND QUIET. WE CAN GET YOU IN A MOMENT WHERE WE CAN TIP YOU FROM WHAT COULD BE A PERMANENTLY LIFE-ALTERING DECISION, INTO A HEALTHY CHOICE. WE’RE RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.”
Interactions like this could not be more different than how we communicate outside the digital world. In real time, you can hear people cry, hear a catch in their voice, see someone smile, or see their body language— and you probably won’t know the exact right thing to say in the moment, or be able to craft the perfect response. Technology eliminates all of this, for better and for worse. We can take our time composing the perfect message of comfort or spit out a short, angry note without having to see the physical reaction of who receives it. Digitization has perhaps limited our in-person interactions, but it has also created infinite virtual communities that have a wealth of resources and information to support themselves. Crisis Text Line volunteers, for example, can volunteer from anywhere and at any time. Typically, volunteering in America means that you have to be available during the week and business hours, and have access to a city. This makes it difficult for many people to volunteer, and inhibits the potential diversity of volunteers. With virtual volunteering at Crisis Text Line, this isn’t an issue. You could complete your hours lying on the couch in your pajamas. “We’re trying to democratize volunteering,” Lublin says. Providing the opportunity for almost anyone (you must complete a background check and training hours) to volunteer is one of the most radical things Crisis Text Line is doing. “We have a couple dozen deaf volunteers, and it’s really hard to volunteer if you have accessibility issues, so we’re really passionate about them. We have a couple dozen military personnel, a bunch of students who are considering counseling as a career, a lot of moms who have learned from their own experience in their homes, or want to become better at it, a lot of older volunteers, people over 70, which really debunks the theory that older people don’t care about young people’s problems. There’s a lot of people who have been motivated by their own mental health experience or someone close to them.” Even though Crisis Text Line, so far, only reaches the US, Canada, and the UK, there are expat volunteers texting those in crisis from London, Dubai, and Singapore. Crisis Text Line trains their volunteers internally, something they didn’t think was going to happen at the beginning. “[We thought] we’d just be the technology, the platform, but when we trained our own people, synthesizing the best training and practices we saw from other crisis centers, we began to have higher satisfaction and quality ratings,” Lublin tells me. By 2015, they were responsible for training all of their own volunteers. In the last 28 days, the organization has had more than 4,200 active volunteers. Despite the diversity of its volunteer base, all of them are bound together by a similar mission: the desire for impact. “We’ve tested and asked all the volunteers like, ‘what keeps them going?’’ Lublin muses. “What attracts them? And the simple answer is impact. All they want it to know that they’re helping another life.” Crisis Text Line’s diverse pool of volunteers is critical to their success, and keeps the organization rooted firmly in the global mental health community.
“I’VE DESCRIBED TECHNOLOGY AS LIKE A LIGHTSABER,” LUBLIN TELLS ME. “IT CAN BE RED—THE DARK SIDE—OR BLUE USED FOR GOOD. TECH CAN BE USED FOR EVIL, AND FOR PAIN, OR YOU CAN USE IT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BETTER.
”THIS IS STRANGERS TALKING TO STRANGERS IN THEIR MOST DIRE MOMENTS,” LUBLIN SAYS. “YOU HAVE TO BE COMFORTABLE KNOWING THAT YOU CAN’T TOTALLY SOLVE THAT PROBLEM, BUT YOU CAN HELP THEM COME UP WITH A PLAN. YOU CAN MAKE THEM FEEL VALIDATED. YOU CAN REMIND THEM OF HOW STRONG THEY ARE. I FIND IT VERY HOPEFUL. AND WHEN I LOG OFF THE [VOLUNTEERING] PLATFORM, I’M SMILING FROM EAR TO EAR, AND FEELING SO STRONG. THIS IS SO RAW, AND SO REAL, AND SO LOVING. IT’S A WONDERFUL ISLAND OF LOVE IN A SEA OF ANGER AND ISOLATION.”