The New York State Office of Mental Health has a partnership with Crisis Text Line, a national not-for-profit organization, to provide free, 24-hour text-based support for people who are experiencing a mental health or situational crisis.
“A crisis can happen to anyone — at any time,” says Commissioner Dr. Anne Sullivan. “Being in crisis doesn’t necessarily mean suicide. It can be any painful emotion for which some-one needs support. Although the Crisis Text Line is not a replacement for counseling or therapy, it can offer individuals in crisis help when they need it the most.”
Crisis Text Line has received more than 67 million text messages since it was founded in 2013 in New York City. It has already entered partnerships to promote its services with school districts, municipal governments, and community organizations in California.
By texting “GOT5,” the program’s keyword in New York State, to 741-741, users are connected to a trained crisis counselor, who can help them sort through their crisis and develop a plan to stay safe. Counselors receive more than 30 hours of online training and are supervised by licensed clinicians. They must be age 18 or older, go through a rigorous applications process that includes a background check, and successfully complete the required training.
Counselors can provide support, but not medical advice. Supervisors are promptly brought into conversations in which the texting individuals seem to be at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others.
- The first two responses are automated, telling the individual that they’re being connected with a crisis counselor, and inviting them to share a bit more.
- It usually takes less than five minutes to connect with a counselor – it may take longer during high-traffic times. Crisis counselors will introduce themselves, reflect on what the individual has said so far, and invite them to share at their own pace.
- The two will then text back-and-forth. Individuals never have to share anything they don’t want to. Crisis counselors will help them sort through their feelings by asking questions, empathizing, and actively listening.
- The conversation typically ends when the individual and counselor both feel comfortable deciding that the individual is in a “cool,” safe place. After the conversation, the individual receives an optional survey about the experience.
Messages are confidential, anonymous, and secure. Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T are waiving fees for using the service, and texts to Crisis Text Line do not appear on billing records.
Using data to improve crisis response
Through the partnership, OMH will receive anonymous data reports of all texts to the “GOT5” keyword to identify trends and help it to better target and improve mental health services for people in crisis situations across the state. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have used Crisis Text Line so far. About 75% of its users are age 25 years or younger, seeking help for anxiety, stress, depression, relationship stress, suicide, bullying, and physical or emotional abuse.
Crisis Text Line has started a website, crisistrends.org, to use data it has derived from the text messages to provide information about crises in the United States — such as a tendency for messages discussing anxiety to peak between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Such data could help schools to schedule their guidance counselors to be available then. Data has also indicated that bullying and harassment based on ethnicity and religion has been on the rise in relation to escalation of divisive national political rhetoric. Active duty service members and veterans make up 2.4% of texters, and that these texters are more likely to be struggling with suicidal ideation or substance abuse.
Spreading the word
OMH is offering a downloadable Marketing Toolkit to help service providers, mental health departments, schools, organizations, advocates, and community groups promote the program.
The toolkit includes posters, graphics, stickers, and suggestions on what school administrators, parents, students, and interested groups can do to let people know about the service — such as posting flyers in classrooms, restrooms, and in counselor, principal, nurse, and coaches’ offices; including it in morning announcements and in student publications; and distributing information at community events.
“Crisis Text Line offers people help when they need it the most, at any time and any place, whether at school, work, home, or somewhere else,” says Dr. Jay Carruthers, Director of the OMH Suicide Prevention Office. It provides an opportunity to connect with a trained counselor during a time of need. If you can text, you are never alone.”