In June 2018, the Centers for Disease Control reported that suicide rates in the U.S. increased in nearly every single state over the past two decades, with half of states having seen increases of more than 30 percent. While many wonderful crisis hotlines are providing life-saving services to people at risk for suicide, they’re not all utilizing one of the most widely used forms of technology today—text messaging.
Crisis hotlines provide free and confidential support for people in distress and are often able to de-escalate dangerous situations or call for emergency service intervention. But those that only offer voice calling are unintentionally alienating a large portion of at-risk people. Studies have shown that people under the age of 37 are less likely to engage in phone conversations and greatly prefer the speed and convenience of text messages. A study from OpenMarket revealed that 75 percent of Millennials would forego the call function on their devices as long as they were still able to text. For that segment of the population, a life-saving phone call may never be made. Zipwhip wants to bridge that gap.
The HopeLine story
HopeLine, an independent volunteer organization whose mission is to provide non-judgmental listening for people in crisis, started using Zipwhip to offer the option of text messaging in April 2017. In the first month, they received around 150 text messages. Now, they receive nearly 400 per month and text conversations make up around 40 percent of their communications.
“Offering text messaging has allowed us to reach and help more people,” said Lauren Foster, Executive Director of HopeLine. “We’ve found that youth and young adults reach out far more through text than over the phone, and they’re often a higher risk for suicide. What’s really surprised us is that we’ve been able to deescalate those cases more quickly than regular call cases, only having to contact emergency services for 2 percent of emergency texts.”
Foster says implementing the service was fairly easy, but that it did require new training for employees.
“It’s a different form of communication, so we can’t use the same strategies like reading the tone of someone’s voice,” she said. “The work of re-training has been well worth it though. We’ve been able to help a lot of people who may not have reached out otherwise.”
Why crisis hotlines should adopt texting
Text messaging is a necessary tool for crisis hotlines for a number of reasons, including:
- It’s the preferred method of communication for many teens and young adults who are not used to or are uncomfortable speaking on the phone.
- It’s more discreet than a phone call. People in domestic violence situations often can’t pick up the phone and call someone. Texting is a safer option.
- It’s easy to text from places like work or school where it may be difficult to make a private call.
- A text message requires the user to take a moment and outline his or her thoughts clearly. That act itself can be calming and elicit rational thinking.
Start texting for free
We feel it’s our responsibility as the creators of two-way business texting to help crisis organizations prevent more suicides and save more lives by offering text messaging. If you run a crisis hotline that does not currently offer text messaging and would like to, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set you up with a Zipwhip account free of charge.