Depressed? Bullied? Alone? Text the crisis line
For people used to Snapchat and WhatsApp, talking on the phone can be awkward
Crisis Text Line: Trained counsellors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to people in need
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The hardest part for Lily Rayne was feeling alone. Rayne is deaf and didn’t grow up with sign language. When she had dark thoughts she couldn’t communicate or sign with a trained professional or a therapist. Nor could she pick up a phone to call a crisis hotline.
She eventually found help online by learning about cognitive behavioural therapy. Years later she came across Crisis Text Line, which has brought support phonelines into the age of texting.
Trained counsellors, of whom Rayne is now one, are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to people in need with text messages. The texts are anonymous and confidential.
“Crisis Text Line is not a replacement for mental-health care,” says Rayne. “But when one feels completely overwhelmed, lost and alone, it’s a point of connection and a way to get to a more stable frame of mind. This is not really something deaf people have had access to before Crisis Text Line, in my opinion.”
Almost 17 million texts have been exchanged in the three years since the not-for-profit service was founded. Its founder, Nancy Lublin, got the idea when she was working with teenagers, some of whom started to text her staff about issues such as depression and rape.
About 35 per cent of the texts come from middle-aged people, many of whom are texting about their children, divorces or job troubles, according to Lublin.
While helplines have helped people in crisis for decades, communication methods have evolved. For people used to Snapchat and WhatsApp, talking on the phone can seem awkward or uncomfortable. For the hearing-impaired, using a telephone can be tough or impossible.
Even for people at ease talking on the phone, having conversations about mental-health issues can put the user at risk of being overheard.
In 2013, Lublin, the chief executive of a teenage outreach organisation called DoSomething.org, and her team sensed the shift in tech habits and began providing crisis counselling via text messaging.
The logic was simple: go where the teens are. Teens on average receive and send about 30 text messages a day, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Through the volume of conversations, Crisis Text Line has gained insights into hard-to-quantify mental-health topics such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm and bullying. It shares some of this data on Crisis Trends. For example, Tuesdays are most common for texters who come for help about depression and physical abuse.
Lublin expected that they’d help people struggling through a personal crisis, but she hadn’t anticipated how it would affect one community. “The biggest surprise, which probably comes out of my own naivete, is how the deaf and hard of hearing have flocked to us. But not only as texters but also as crisis counsellors.”
Rayne knows first-hand how removed she was from mainstream support networks. Several years ago she attempted suicide and was hospitalised.
“As a deaf person, getting help before it reached that point was a challenge, since I couldn’t call any of the hotlines,” she says.
She couldn’t use a telecommunication device for the deaf, because those devices tended to be “clunky and frustrating to use”, she says by email.
Rayne also found that the hotlines for the hard of hearing were rarely answered.
“I was pretty isolated socially and found it too difficult to understand therapists and doctors, so I was pretty much on my own.”
Rayne read about Crisis Text Line on a website and felt compelled to join. After years of struggling with mental-health issues she wanted to help others.
“I know what it’s like to not have somewhere to turn in a crisis, and I don’t want others to have to feel that way,” she says.
Rayne began volunteering in June 2015 and now works 12 hours a week. The service now has more than 30 counsellors who are deaf or hard of hearing.