This week, TWLOHA has asked people to engage in the difficult but vital conversations surrounding mental health and suicide prevention. We want people to know that their life is a story worth living, that no one else can play their part.
We know how hard it can be to reach out to someone for help, which is why we’re so encouraged by the work Crisis Text Line is doing to meet young people where they are: on their phones.
This National Suicide Prevention Week, we’re donating $5,000 to help Crisis Text Line train new volunteer crisis responders. This donation will help the text line provide 2,000 hours of crisis support to more than 3,000 youth over the course of one year.
We sat down with Jen Chiou, Executive Director of Crisis Text Line, to learn more about how they got started, the progress that has been made, and how you can get more involved.
(Editor’s Note: Some of the scenarios described can be upsetting. Please take caution when reading.)
TWLOHA: Can you share how Crisis Text Line got started?
Jen Chiou: Crisis Text Line was born out of the not-for-profit DoSomething.org, the nation’s largest organization for teens and social change. DoSomething.org is now texting with 1.6 million people every week. Their texts have a 97% open rate; it’s an incredible way to reach young people.
When they started using text, something unexpected started happening. Young people would text in asking for help. Sometimes it was about school stress, and sometimes it was much more serious – distress about self-harm, feelings of depression, and the worst text they ever received came in three years ago. It read: “He won’t stop raping me. Its my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. Are u there?”
The DoSomething.org team was horrified. And, they were humbled that this girl had turned to them for help. That day, they decided to build Crisis Text Line, a 24/7 support line for youth using the medium that they know and trust: text message.
TWLOHA: Crisis Text Line launched a little over a year ago. What kind of response have you seen from people using the service?
Jen Chiou: The demand for Crisis Text Line is huge. We’ve exchanged over 3 million text messages with young people in need since our launch last year, and we’ve helped youth in every state in the country. You can see more about the struggles that young people face on Crisis Trends, our open data project: http://crisistextline.org/trends/
We’re aiming to spark more conversation and action on these issues, so we can help prevent future crises from happening.
We’ve had to limit marketing of the line since January because word-of-mouth has spread so quickly. We’re urgently fundraising and growing our volunteer crisis responder network so that we can serve more youth.
TWLOHA: We love that your team is meeting young people where they are, which is on their phones. Have you found that young people are more willing to open up about their struggles via text than they would be in other situations?
Jen Chiou: Definitely. Many of the young people who reach out to us tell us that we are the first people they have told about their issues. They’ve been struggling in silence for so long, but with an anonymous text line, they feel they can finally reach out for help.
TWLOHA: For our readers who want to get involved, how can they help?
Jen Chiou: Apply to be a volunteer crisis responder!
Our volunteer crisis responders provide empathetic, non-judgmental emotional support to teens. They’re trained in building rapport, exploring issues, conducting suicide risk assessment, and collaborative problem solving. We provide all the training and support the responders need in order to make a difference, and a supervisor is always there to guide them.
They have told us this is the most meaningful volunteer opportunity that they’ve ever had. You get to directly help young people in need, and you can do it all from home.