How a text message can save a life

In high school, I went through a serious bout of depression when I felt like giving up on life. I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I was embarrassed and I didn't want to worry my parents. I knew if I called a hotline, my parents would overhear me on the phone and ask me what was going on. So, I kept silent. And luckily, it passed without me taking permanent action.

But many others aren't as lucky as I am and, if there isn't a person easily accessible to talk to, this could mean the difference between life and death.

Two years ago, the nonprofit Do Something started a 24-hour free Crisis Text Line to give people access to crisis counselors right at their fingertips. I wish this would have been around when I was in high school. And, nowadays, with teenagers more likely to send a text message than make a phone call, this service is imperative to saving lives.

Do Something's CEO Nancy Lublin said in a TED Talk this week, "The way we communicate with young people is by text, because that's how young people communicate."

The nonprofit, which helps youth create social and environmental change, runs over 200 campaigns each year, and they first started using text messages to broadcast their campaigns to their members and ask for donations.

Lublin said that, often times, they would get texts back in response that had nothing to do with the project and one in particular inspired them to create the Crisis Line.

"The worst message we ever got said exactly this: 'He won't stop raping me. It's my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?'"

"We realized we had to stop triaging this and we had to build a crisis text line for these people in pain. So we launched Crisis Text Line. ... In four months, we were in all 295 area codes in America."

Lublin said, because of the privacy of texting, teenagers are more likely to share the most private details of their lives that they would never say aloud.

"We get things like, 'I want to die. I have a bottle of pills on the desk in front of me.' And so the crisis counselor says, 'How about you put those pills in the drawer while we text?' And they go back and forth for a while. And the crisis counselor gets the girl to give her her address," said Lublin.

"The counselor triggers an active rescue while they're texting back and forth. ... And the next message that comes in says (from the mom), 'I had no idea, and I was in the house. We're in an ambulance on our way to the hospital.' ... The next message comes a month later, 'I just got out of the hospital. I was diagnosed as bipolar, and I think I'm going to be OK.'"

In the last two years, the organization has exchanged more than 6.5 million text messages and does an average of 2.41 active rescues each day.

While sometimes I think cell phones, texting and the constant connection to everyone has a negative impact on mental health, I applaud Lublin for finding the benefits of text messaging and using this to ultimately save lives.

"I want to use tech and data to make the world a better place. I want to use it to help that girl, who texted in about being raped by her father. Because the truth is we never heard from her again. And I hope that she is somewhere safe and healthy, and I hope that she sees this talk and she knows that her desperation and her courage inspired the creation of Crisis Text Line and inspires me every freaking day," she said.

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