There are three advantages to mental health crisis text lines. Recently, a mental health consumer organization in the greater Indianapolis area started a mental health crisis text line–the 13th such text line in the nation. Also, there is a national mental health crisis text line at 741741 (Suicide Chat Hotline Options). This made me think about three advantages to crisis text lines and how they help mental health consumers in crisis.
Advantage #1: You Don’t Get Triggered By a Voice
Many people can be triggered by a voice, whether it’s the voice of a stranger or the voice of a man or woman. I know one person with posttraumatic stress disorder who, for years, could not talk to a man while in crisis and would hang up if the crisis counselor was male. Texting gets you past this. When you text, you don’t get triggered by a voice.
A surprisingly large number of people hang up the second they hear a crisis counselor’s voice on a crisis hotline. I don’t know why this is, but texting allows the person in crisis to get past the initial panic (Suicide Hotline: What Happens When You Call). Texting is easier than talking and allows the person to control the conversation and concentrate on the conversation. It is important for the person in crisis to feel in control of the conversation and to feel safe.
The disadvantage is not hearing a voice–some crisis counselors are leery of text because they can’t hear a tone of voice (Suicide Help Chat: A Viable Option to Calling a Crisis Line?). But it’s harder to text a lie than it is to speak a lie because you have to stop and think about what you’re saying. A person in crisis can lie a lot easier over the phone than via text. The New York Times reports that people in crisis tend to be more honest when texting.1 They also tend to cut straight to the point and say exactly how they’re feeling or what the problem is.
That leads to the second advantage: texting a mental health crisis hotline keeps your hands busy.
Advantage #2: It Keeps Your Hands Busy
Texting keeps your hands busy. I can speak from experience that during a phone call, the person in crisis might not be safe. More than once I’ve called a mental health crisis hotline with something with which to hurt myself in my hand. Just because someone is talking to a crisis counselor does not mean they don’t have a way to hurt themselves. Texting usually requires both hands and keeps your hands busy–and putting down the means to harm yourself can be greatly freeing.
Putting down whatever you plan to use to hurt yourself buys you some time, and time is crucial to feeling better. Keeping your hands busy until the feeling passes is one way to ride out a mental health crisis. Texting distracts you from acting on your self-harm or suicidal urges long enough to feel better most of the time. So text away.
Advantage #3: Texting Provides Privacy
I hate it when I’m in crisis and my counselor calls me while I’m on the bus. Granted, I need to talk to her, but it’s hard to do when someone else may overhear me. I don’t like talking about my problems in public–there’s a reason therapists work so hard on establishing a safe spot in their office. Texting provides privacy, and this allows the person in crisis to both be honest and safe if another person is nearby.
Texting is quiet. No one overhears your conversation and makes negative comments about your situation. Texting allows the person in crisis to reach out for help without compromising their privacy. Texting can be about anything–no one has to know that you’re talking to a counselor. You can reach out for help without anyone knowing you’re talking to a therapist. For some people, this is just as vital as knowing the therapist won’t break confidentiality unless they’re a danger to themselves or others.
So those are three advantages for consumers that mental health crisis text lines have. What advantages have you found to crisis text lines?
- In Texting Era, Crisis Hotlines Put Help at Youths’ Fingertips New York Times