“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.”
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.