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Crisis hotlines turning to text to reach teens

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm •  Published: March 29, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — They stream in from teens around the United States, cries for help often sent in by text message.

"I feel like committing suicide," one text read. "What's the suicide hotline number?" Another asked: "How do you tell a friend they need to go to rehab?"

DoSomething.org, an organization that encourages activism among young adults, gets plenty of text messages asking for help, but it isn't a hotline. So the nonprofit's CEO, Nancy Lublin, is leading an effort to establish an around-the-clock text number across trigger issues for teens in the hope that it will become their emergency line, perhaps reaching those who wouldn't otherwise seek help using more established methods of telephone talking or computer-based chat.

"Most of the texts we get like this are about things like being bullied," Lublin said. "A lot of things are about relationships, so we'll get texts from kids about breakups, or 'I like a boy, what should I do?' But the worst one we ever got said, 'He won't stop raping me. It's my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?'"

Lublin hopes the Crisis Text Line, due to launch in August, will serve as a New York-based network, shuttling texts for help to partner organizations around the country, such as The Trevor Project for gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning youth or other groups already providing hotlines on dating and sexual abuse to bullying, depression and eating disorders.

As more teens have gone mobile, using their phones as an extension of themselves, hotline providers have tried to keep up. Fewer seem to operate today than in decades past. A smattering reach out through mobile text, including Teen Line in Los Angeles, though that service and others offer limited schedules or specialize in narrow areas of concern when multiple problems might be driving a teen to the brink.

Some text providers operate in specific places or rely on trained teen volunteers to handle the load across modes of communication. Several agreed that text messaging enhances call-in and chat options for a generation of young people who prefer to communicate by typing on their phones, especially when they don't want parents, teachers, friends or boyfriends to listen in.

Katie Locke, 26, in Philadelphia was one of those teens in 2006, when she found herself in a suicidal panic after a fight with an old friend.

At 18, she said she grabbed her phone, left her college dorm room and headed out in the cold to sit on a bench to talk with a worker on a crisis phone line she knew from one of her favorite blogs. The number was the only one she had handy and it didn't offer text, which she would have preferred.

"People don't always have the (mobile phone) minutes or aren't in a position where they can speak aloud if they're in danger from somebody around them," Locke said. "I know for me there were other times when I probably should have called a crisis hotline and didn't because of the anxiety about calling. That was such an enormous barrier, to have to dial a phone number."

Brian Pinero, director of the National Dating Abuse Helpline run by a nonprofit called Love is Respect, knows that lesson well.

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