NEW YORK: They stream in a couple of dozen times a week, cries for help in bursts of text to DoSomething.org, a nonprofit group more used to texting out details to teens on good causes and campaigns than receiving them from young people in crisis.
“I feel like committing suicide,” one text read, requesting the suicide hot line number. Another asked: “How do you tell a friend they need to go to rehab?”
DoSomething isn’t a hot line, but its CEO, Nancy Lublin, decided to, well, do something. She’s leading an effort to establish a 24/7 national text number across trigger issues for teens in the hope that it will become their 911, 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 umbrella, 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 hot lines 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, hot line 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 are “siloed,” as Lublin put it, specializing in narrow areas of concern when multiple problems might be driving a teen to the brink.
Some text providers operate in specific towns, counties or regions and-or rely on trained teen volunteers to handle the load across modes of communication. Several agreed that text 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.
“We’ve had people who are walking and they just needed to get out of their house because they had an argument with their parent, so they’re texting us as they’re calming down,” said Jennifer James, who supervises chat and text outreach for Common Ground, which also serves adults from its base in southeastern Michigan.
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 hot line and didn’t because of the anxiety about calling. That was such an enormous barrier, to have to dial a phone number.”