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R U There? How Crisis Text Line is Using Technology To Its Advantage

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Nancy Lublin giving a TedTalk on the creation of CrisisTextLine.org

Crisis Text Line was launched quietly with no marketing initiative in late 2013. Within a few months, they were operating in all area codes in the United States which is a faster growth than when Facebook was launched.

Crisis Text Line received more than 6.5 million texts in less than two years, from the date the algorithms were developed. For instance, if a text uses the words ‘rubber band’ and ‘MG’ there is a 99% match for substance abuse. This prompts the counsellor to ask specific questions or highlights the nearest drug centres to the texter.

Data and evidence can make research, policy, policing and school boards better and more effective to helping young people who are being bullied, suffering from eating disorders or being abused. Crisis Text Line believe in open collaboration and sharing the information they have learnt on social media and at conferences in an effort to help inform others’ practice. This data has been made public and available on www.crisistrends.org.

Crisis Text Line serves anyone, and it is free and available to use 24/7. Texters just need to text ‘START’ to 741741 from anywhere in the USA about any type of crisis, and a trained counsellor will receive and respond quickly. Counsellors are volunteers, and they aim to help move the texter from a hot moment to a cool moment. Texts to Crisis Text Line are free from all major phone networks including, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile which was announced in July 2015. These networks also announced texts to Crisis Text Line would not appear on billing statements allowing texters privacy and confidentiality in moments of crisis.

Whilst Crisis Text Line believes that science and technology make them better able to respond faster and more accurately, they do not think robots make great Crisis Counsellors. This means that every text you send will be viewed by a human.

Crisis Text Line aim to respond to texts within 5 minutes. However, if the service is extremely busy the waiting time may increase. Currently, the system is only able to process 140 characters in one text message. The service can also be reached through Facebook Messenger which is located through Facebook’s Safety checkpoint. Anonymity still applies and Crisis Text Line will not have access to your profile information. If you would like your data deleted via Facebook messenger you should message Crisis Text Line back with the word ‘LOOFAH’, they will scrub your data from the system and ask Facebook to do this too! Although Crisis Text Line provides a free resource for people to access in times of crisis, it is not a replacement for long-term counselling, therapy and/or a friend.

Crisis Text Line was founded by Nancy Lublin, Founder of Do Something, who saw a need for a service to help people in crisis. In her TED Talk, Lublin cites the text of one young person  who stated that, “he won’t stop raping her, it’s her dad, R U there?”. From this, Nancy knew she had to create a crisis text line because young people communicate primarily through texts.

Text messaging is private, no one can hear you, the messages given are just the facts and not communicated through ‘ums’ ‘ahs’, or hysterical crying. This meant that counsellors could act quickly and in some cases trigger active rescues which can save a young person’s life. Crisis Text Line initiate 2.41 active rescues each day. Crisis Text Line does not respond to texts chronologically, and they triage texts based on crisis level. Their goal is to provide a service that will help people in crisis get the best support they can give when experiencing a crisis.

If you are interested in becoming a Crisis Counsellor, you must pass a background check, have a US Social Security number, be at least 18 years old, have computer access with a secure internet connection and be able to commit to volunteering 4 hours per week for one year. The application process is rigorous, and it involves a lot of training that will prepare you for what you might experience.

If volunteering is not something you could commit to, you could also donate. Crisis Text Line is a non-for-profit organisation and any donation would help them to develop their service so that they can reach more people experiencing crisis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOtFDsC8JC0

Kerry Ferguson is a final year social work student at Queen's University Belfast in Ireland. She has strong interests in equality, human rights, social good and humanitarianism. Kerry is fond of volunteering, and she is also a debates adjudicator for Concern Worldwide.

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