Texting for help, mental health, crisis remediation
The Crisis Text Line is a free national service provided around the clock by volunteers who are trained to be crisis counselors. Founded in 2013 by Nancy Lublin, this service opens up another medium to help someone in need that doesn’t involve traveling any distance or feeling the pressure of having a spotlight. Instead, someone in need can reach out with a quick text message to 741741 anytime, anywhere.
Emilia Aguirre is a health promotion specialist for the Mental Well-Being team for UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services. About a year ago, she started working on the keyword “RELATE” for UC Davis students to text to the hotline. She wanted to bring the Crisis Text Line (CTL) option to the forefront at Davis.
“It’s been something that’s been on my work plan for quite some time,” Aguirre said. “We actually started it back in February of 2017, so it’s been a little over a year in the process. And the whole idea about it has been that since CTL started in 2013, we have known of other college campuses that have implemented the same process, and so we wanted to really be in the proactive, forward movement in being able to support our students. We know that they are experiencing increasing mental health challenges and concerns. So we really wanted to be able to offer another resource to students [ … ] to give another option to students if there is a barrier for them to seek the help that they need.”
There are many different keywords that have been implemented in different regions for different purposes, but the keyword “RELATE” will help gather more data specific to Davis students, and that information can be used to better the services and raise awareness.
“The significance of the keyword is that we are going to be able to get aggregate data that [can] tell us [things such as] the time of day, the type of crisis, and the age [of students] so that we can further do outreach and prevention to help support students based off of what we are able to get through CTL,” Aguirre said.
The text line option creates a new space for people to seek help that technology is now making possible. Sofia Molodanof, a fourth-year English major, is one of the mental well-being team student coordinators. She expressed that especially in the busy lives of students, CTL can allow for immediate help that would otherwise require much more of time commitment and planning.
“From a student perspective, texting is an option that may be easier for students to do,” Molodanof said. “I think that a lot of times, students may not be super comfortable [with] going to talk to someone right away. Texting is an option for students to seek help that they need in that moment — [they’re] able to kind of feel more comfortable than talking to people like a counselor. I think that’s definitely a barrier for a lot of people who feel uncomfortable kind of just seeking the help they need in person. So this definitely offers a way for students to use their phones to get the access they need.”
Crisis counselors are required to undergo a rigorous 34-hour online training and a final exam that involves various role-play instances before they are allowed access to the online platform where they can directly help those that reach out. They often conduct a 4-step risk assessment to discern the situation, and especially to understand if there is an immediate threat involved, such as a physical threat as serious as suicide.
Kevin Trujillo, a third-year mathematics major, has been working as a crisis counselor for the past three years. He found out about the opportunity when he watched Nancy Lublin’s TED talk about her company, and was inspired to get involved.
“I am a volunteer crisis counselor,” Trujillo said. “If you text in, you are connected to one of 4,000 of us, and we help you move from a hot moment to a cool calm through problem solving, through evaluating where you are right now, [and letting] you talk out your issues and giving you the resources to help yourself too.”
During the training, Trujillo was taught about all the different types of issues that someone may be facing, and how to approach them in an appropriate manner.
“That was hard, because you learn about all types of issues that someone might be going through,” Trujillo said. “And you learn how to approach them, how to make them feel empowered, how to empathize and how to listen — that’s our main tool. And then [we learn] how to use specific resources and referrals to help them help themselves. After the training you have a final examination where we go through a series of role plays and once you pass that they let you go on the platform. You have supervisors all the time, and you have a community there, so we’re all on the same platform. If you have a question, you just go to the chat bar and ask if anyone knows how to approach [the issue].”
An important part of empathizing with a person in need is emulating their language to show that you are listening, and can relate to them, as Trujillo expressed. Some people may use abbreviations such as “lol,” others may not. Some may use emojis or not. It is important for the crisis counselor to use language that shows the person that they are truly listening and empathizing — an endeavor that is not easy on a platform such as text where words are devoid of the human tone of voice.
“It’s really difficult because a lot of people in their first text message will [ask] are you a robot?” Trujillo said. “And how do you have a conversation through text and not sound robotic? So you have to learn how to listen appropriately and let them know that you’re listening. And there’s a whole training module on that when we’re getting trained. That’s still a difficulty that all the counselors go through continuously. That’s the beautiful thing about it — strangers helping strangers with very intimate issues.”
Written by: Sahiti Vemula — firstname.lastname@example.org