Crisis Text Line

“Free Support at Your Fingertips”


Nancy Lublin is the CEO of which helps millions of teens find meaningful volunteer opportunities. She noticed that teens are very open and honest when texting. It made her wonder if a crisis line that used texts might be more effective than traditional crisis hotlines. In 2011 she met with Chris Anderson, TED Talks curator and told him about her thought. He was interested and asked her to give a TED University talk (a special TED session where audience members are asked to give short talks) about her plan to start a Crisis hotline using texts. This forced Lublin to do her research and put together a plan. Eighteen months after giving her talk she had raised money and made her first two hires for Crisis Text Line. It went live August 1, 2013 – and it has had faster growth than Facebook did when it first launched.

How The Crisis Text Line works:

When a teenager texts (their favored method of communicating) the service, the message goes to a certified counselor to read and all text messages are anonymous. The counselor and the texter have a text conversation where the counselor asks questions and offers resources. The average text conversation is 66 minutes. Counselors can ask for backup from other counselors anytime they feel they need another opinion, or even need a bathroom break. Unlike traditional hot lines, the texter has no idea they might be chatting with another counselor, it’s still Crisis Text Line to them, but the counselor has gotten the support they needed. Teens can ask for help from anywhere. The conversations are stored and the texter can reread them if they ever get hopeless. If necessary, the counselor can trigger emergency services for a rescue. They have an average 2.41 active rescues a day.

The data is important:

Crisis Text Line has a data scientist on staff who is keeping track of the over 6.5 million messages Crisis Text Line has received as of May, 2015. That data is very important to schools, parents and policy makers because it quantifies trends in teens in crisis. For example, their data shows that for teens with eating disorders, Monday is the most difficult day. This information can help schools plan meals and alert guidance counselors to be attentive to the kids with eating disorders on Mondays. They can also spot certain words in texts that signal certain behaviors. For example, if the words ‘numbs’ and ‘sleeve’ are in a text, there is a 99% match for cutting. For the counselor it triggers a pop-up that says “99% chance for cutting, try asking one of these questions”. If it’s a text that was triggered by the words “MG” and “rubber band” there’s a 99% chance for substance abuse. A pop-up for the counselor will say “Here are three drug clinics near the texter”.   The algorithms also allow them to classify texts by severity, not chronology. Traditional hotlines put callers in order by when they called. Crisis Text Line puts them in order of severity, so a suicide risk will be put ahead of an eating disorder, or someone questioning their sexuality. Crisis text Line data has been made public and available to everyone.

Nancy Lublin’s TED talk about their data in May 2015

Crisis Text Line: Text: “START” to 741-741

We admire the work that Nancy Lublin does with teens as the CEO of DoSomething is a not-for-profit that matches teens with causes they care about. It is one of the largest global organizations for young people wanting to be involved in social change. It has 5.3 million members in 130 countries who are involved in volunteer campaigns that span every cause – poverty, illiteracy, litter, health, homelessness and more. The causes are large and small and matched to the amount of time each member can give. Their promise: “Any cause, anytime, anywhere”.