Posted by: Dawn Schell on April 2, 2014 3:46 pm

I’ve written previously on the CCPA blog about crisis line services for youth that use text as their main method of communication.  Many youth crisis line services in Canada and elsewhere have noticed there has been a shift away from making phone calls.  Several crisis services have responded to this and have added live chat/messaging/email or texting as alternatives to phoning.   Three Canadian examples are, and KidsHelpPhone.

Why do youth use these types of crisis services via text?  Well, it’s the same reasons I’ve mentioned before.  It’s mobile.  You can use it anywhere. It’s private.  You can reach out for help and no one else needs to know that is what you are doing.  It can be immediate.

This past week, CBC’s Spark program (which “brings you the latest in technology and culture”)[1] featured ‘texting crisis lines for teens’.[2] and the Samaritans ( were interviewed.  It’s well worth 15 minutes of your time to listen to this portion of the program.

The host of Spark, Nora Young, asked the question that is often asked – can teens get quality counselling online?   Both groups agree that it can be a medium to help a teen out of crisis.  As Ron White of the Samaritans says, being able to use text “allows teens and young adults access to crisis services they would not have otherwise”.

In 2012 I heard a TedTalk by Nancy Lublin, CEO of  Her social change organization is in regular text contact with youth.  DoSomething was receiving messages from youth that were not just about social advocacy.  Youth were texting about bullying, depression and abuse (to name a few of the issues).  One particular message inspired Ms. Lublin to create a 24/7 text-only crisis line.   At the time of her TedTalk she was sharing her vision for the crisis line and seeking support.  Crisis Text Line was launched in August 2013.

Crisis Text Line’s stated objectives are: “support youth in need, 24/7, wherever they are, and use insights from our work to develop and share innovations in prevention, treatment, and long-term care”.   In terms of sharing their insights they have partnered with MIT (and others) to do research on the data they collect from youth.[3]

One of the first questions they researched was “Do teens want a service that is reaching out to them and saying, “If you are in crisis, call us” or do they simply want someone to listen?”  As you might expect, early data shows that teens are not as focussed on their crises as they are on building relationship and trust and having someone listen to them.

With a million messages within the first six months of service there is a lot of data to analyse.   They already know about peak hours (3 – 5 pm & 11 pm – 4 am) and which days of the week certain issues are more likely to arise.  I can see many potential practical applications.

If it’s the technology of choice for youth then maybe it’s time it became our technology of choice for reaching them.

There are, as I have previously mentioned in other blog posts, advantages (privacy, mobility, immediacy, etc.) and disadvantages (160 character limits, multitasking while texting, relying on client to protect their own privacy, etc.) to using texting for mental health services.  We need to use our current best practices and best judgment with respect to offering texting services ethically and securely.

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.


[3] Listen to the interview and check out their website to learn more about their data protection and research

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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