Each year, 65 million Americans suffer from some kind of mental illness. From depression and anxiety to eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, individuals need support when they are faced with different crises.
Crisis Text Line is attempting to be that first line of support for those in need through its free, 24/7 text message service. The confidential service links trained Crisis Counselors with texters to bring them from “hot to cool” and help them plan for future health and safety.
“Regardless of our perceived severity of the conversation, we always go through the same thing,” said Lakshan Fonseka, a Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line and Santa Clarita resident. “The key to all conversations is empathetic listening. From there we follow the same process: we explore the issue surrounding the texter, we’ll identify the problem and we’ll collaboratively problem solve with the end goal of creating a safety plan.”
Individuals can reach counselors through text messages, Kik messenger and Facebook messenger and receive responses to their initial messages in less than five minutes on average. To date, Crisis Text Line has answered more than 38 million messages and has trained more than 3,000 Crisis Counselors.
The service is used throughout the country and will soon be implemented at all 113 California Community Colleges, the Foundation for Community Colleges announced Wednesday.
“We are proud to collaborate with the Crisis Text Line to offer expanded support for students,” said Keetha Mills, CEO and president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges, in a statement.
Fonseka, a former Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and graduate of UCLA and University of Navarra in Spain, decided to apply as a Crisis Counselor after he found out about the service on DoSomething.org.
“I wanted to do something more fulfilling and similar to my EMT work,” said Fonseka, who is working as a Crisis Counselor as he applies to medical school. “It brings back the same feelings when I was an EMT here with AMR… It’s nice because I can get a taste of what I hope to accomplish later on when I am working as a doctor.”
Fonseka began his work as a crisis counselor in January, after completing a rigorous application, a background check, 34 hours of online training, quizzes and roleplay situations.
“It prepares you well,” he said.
Each week Fonseka spends about an hour with each texter, working them through their crises during his four-hour shift.
Common crises from texters include suicide, depression and self-harm, but Fonseka said he has heard about all kinds of crises from someone with a suicide plan to someone upset that they did not have a date to prom.
“It’s whatever the person deems a crisis to themselves that we’re here for,” he said. “That’s our goal is to be in the moment to help.”
The texting service saw an uptick in requests in recent months following the release of “13 Reasons Why” because it was listed as a debrief service for viewers.
“Most of the texts that I got had some kind of relevance with the show,” Fonseka said. “Other people were divided on the issue of how they see the show.”
The service is different from a suicide hotline because it allows people to talk to someone in an honest way, without feeling the pressure to sound or act happy, according to Fonseka.
“I think it’s a better way for people themselves to reach out. It may not necessarily provide the same services as a hotline, but in the end what matters is that that person reached out,” Fonseka said. “You really are talking to one person through a medium that really lets you express yourself.”
The service also collects data to see, by state, which issues are the most prominent, what words are associated with each issue and what time of day texters reach out for help.
“It’s a pretty cool idea using the crises that are going on right now in order to better understand the crises as they’re happening in the moment so you can better prevent them from happening in the future,” Fonseka said.
To reach the Crisis Text Line, send “Hello” to 741741 for free, 24/7 support.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_