Today the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced a $192 million funding package for suicide prevention and mental health. Tucked away in the suite of initiatives was $2.5 million for Lifeline Australia to develop that nations first text based crisis support service.
In short, it’s both welcomed and evidence that Australia is prepared to invest in new and innovative ways of dealing with what has become a national emergency.
According to the Chairman of Lifeline Australia, John Brogden: “With 2,864 people taking their own lives in 2014 – a 10-year-plus high – we need to find new and better ways to ensure no person in crisis has to be alone. We have to think differently, we must change the game, and Crisis Text does this by making help available, simply and accessibly, across modern communication."
Evidence that the service has street credibility comes from the United States where the Crisis Text Line has been in place since 2013. Since then the service has processed more than 17 million text messages and it is estimated that they are saving up to eight teenagers in the United States per day. The service began as a response to a message on the platform of tech company Do Something. CEO, Nancy Lublin said that as messages became much more personal she saw a need to help filter the messages in order to identify those who needed an intervention or who could be helped. By July 2015 the service began to get support of the large US based telco’s such as Verizon and Sprint who waived fees for users of the service who identified that young people in particular would not always be able to afford to text and use it. In September of 2015 the service was extended to include the deaf and hard of hearing.
Users of the service run the gamut. About 35% of the texts come from middle-aged people, many of whom are texting about their children, divorces or job troubles, according to Lublin.
As suicide rates have climbed to alarming levels — the highest in three decades — public health and CDC researchers agree that suicide prevention needs more resources. In 2013, more than 41,000 people in the United States committed suicide, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While hotlines have helped people in crisis for decades, communication methods have evolved. In the age of Snapchat and WhatsApp, talking on the phone can seem awkward or uncomfortable. For the hearing impaired, using a telephone can be tough or impossible.
Even for people at ease talking on the phone, having conversations about mental health issues can put the user at risk of being overheard.
The logic was simple: Go where the teens are. Teens on average receive and send about 30 text messages a day, according to a Pew Research Center study.
Through the volume of conversations, Crisis Text Line has gained insights into hard-to-quantify mental health topics such as suicidal thoughts, self harm and bullying.
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