Saving lives when every moment counts

The stakes are high for Crisis Text Line, which quickly connects teens and adults struggling with suicidal thoughts, addiction, and other crises with counselors trained to help. In 2016, the nonprofit chose Twilio SMS to power its 24/7 messaging service, which currently exchanges millions of messages per month and is growing fast.

Impact

36 million

Texts exchanged with people in crisis since 2013

90% of counselors

Respond in less than five minutes

The concept of Crisis Text Line is simple yet powerful: Give individuals struggling with addiction, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, sexual abuse, and other crises quick access to a counselor trained to help. Since its launch in 2013, Crisis Text Line has exchanged 36 million messages with people in crisis via text and Facebook Messenger. Roughly 30% of those messages were related to depression or suicide.

With such high stakes, Crisis Text Line needs to be available 24/7, without outages or technical issues to slow down responses. The organization sought a communications platform that could reliably handle high messaging volumes, quickly triage the level of crisis, and route information to a crisis counselor without a moment’s waste. The platform also had to scale easily as the organization grew.

Twilio Products

  • Programmable SMS

“Our texters mention ‘today’ six times as often as any other time. That means they are getting crisis help in the moment, when we can help them make a smart decision.”

Nancy Lublin, CEO and founder, Crisis Text Line

Getting the right message to the right people

Traditional businesses measure user response times by hours or days. Crisis Text Line uses a different standard—minutes and seconds. “We’re getting people texting in about heat-of-the-moment things, which means it’s a place we can have maximum impact,” says Nancy Lublin, CEO and founder of Crisis Text Line. Lublin says the organization’s goal is to respond to messages within five minutes. If it’s a “code orange,” where people are at high risk of self-harm, the goal is under 1.4 minutes.

Crisis Text Line used another technology platform for its first few years, but began using Twilio to power the service in 2016. Through Twilio Programmable SMS, individuals sending a message to 741741 will receive an automated response asking about the type of crisis. The Twilio platform interfaces with advanced machine learning and sentiment analysis technology to triage the message based on crisis urgency. Within minutes, a live trained crisis counselor will answer the message.

Twilio Programmable SMS also integrates easily with other messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger. This flexibility allows people to reach Crisis Text Line with greater ease, reducing the barriers to seeking help.

On a typical day, roughly 300 counselors are on the phone lines, averaging 40 to 60 messages per text conversation. Crisis Text Line considers this an ideal amount of time to move a texter from a “hot” moment, such as a suicidal or physically abusive situation, to a “cool” moment, one where the person is out of immediate danger.

Crisis Text Line does more than just de-escalate crises. Counselors use a therapeutic technique called mirroring to foster a sense of trust with texters and guide them toward discovering their own coping strengths.

The organization is also working to address crises before they make it to a text by evaluating trends in conversation data to identify root causes and geographic propensities toward certain issues. Users can see which states have higher rates of substance abuse, hotspots where teens suffer from anxiety, and counties where texters frequently report physical abuse. Crisis Text Line anonymizes the data to protect the privacy of the user and shares it with policymakers at crisistrends.org. “We hope that leads to smarter policy, smarter funding, changes in schools and police departments,” Nancy says.

Expanding hope and impact

From 2013 to early 2016, Crisis Text Line exchanged more than 17.5 million texts with people in crisis. Upon switching to Twilio, the organization more than doubled its texting volume in less than a year. The platform easily handled the increase, allowing Crisis Text Line to focus on bringing in new people to support the service rather than fussing over technology.

“There’s a sense of urgency that comes with every crisis,” Nancy says. “When time is limited and emotions are high, text messaging provides those in crisis a safe and private medium to reach out for help. With Twilio, we can easily extend our services, grow our platform, and continue to provide hope to even more people.”

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Traditional businesses measure user response times by hours or days. Crisis Text Line uses a different standard—minutes and seconds. “We’re getting people texting in about heat-of-the-moment things, which means it’s a place we can have maximum impact,” says Nancy Lublin, CEO and founder of Crisis Text Line. Lublin says the organization’s goal is to respond to messages within five minutes. If it’s a “code orange,” where people are at high risk of self-harm, the goal is under 1.4 minutes.

Crisis Text Line used another technology platform for its first few years, but began using Twilio to power the service in 2016. Through Twilio Programmable SMS, individuals sending a message to 741741 will receive an automated response asking about the type of crisis. The Twilio platform interfaces with advanced machine learning and sentiment analysis technology to triage the message based on crisis urgency. Within minutes, a live trained crisis counselor will answer the message.

Twilio Programmable SMS also integrates easily with other messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger. This flexibility allows people to reach Crisis Text Line with greater ease, reducing the barriers to seeking help.

On a typical day, roughly 300 counselors are on the phone lines, averaging 40 to 60 messages per text conversation. Crisis Text Line considers this an ideal amount of time to move a texter from a “hot” moment, such as a suicidal or physically abusive situation, to a “cool” moment, one where the person is out of immediate danger.

Crisis Text Line does more than just de-escalate crises. Counselors use a therapeutic technique called mirroring to foster a sense of trust with texters and guide them toward discovering their own coping strengths.

The organization is also working to address crises before they make it to a text by evaluating trends in conversation data to identify root causes and geographic propensities toward certain issues. Users can see which states have higher rates of substance abuse, hotspots where teens suffer from anxiety, and counties where texters frequently report physical abuse. Crisis Text Line anonymizes the data to protect the privacy of the user and shares it with policymakers at crisistrends.org. “We hope that leads to smarter policy, smarter funding, changes in schools and police departments,” Nancy says.

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“Our texters mention ‘today’ six times as often as any other time. That means they are getting crisis help in the moment, when we can help them make a smart decision.”

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From 2013 to early 2016, Crisis Text Line exchanged more than 17.5 million texts with people in crisis. Upon switching to Twilio, the organization more than doubled its texting volume in less than a year. The platform easily handled the increase, allowing Crisis Text Line to focus on bringing in new people to support the service rather than fussing over technology.

“There’s a sense of urgency that comes with every crisis,” Nancy says. “When time is limited and emotions are high, text messaging provides those in crisis a safe and private medium to reach out for help. With Twilio, we can easily extend our services, grow our platform, and continue to provide hope to even more people.”

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