• Stephanie Drax

Heroine: Keeping People Connected During Social Distancing

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Nancy Lublin started texting teenagers in 2011 to help her with her social advocacy organization, dosomething.org - the largest organisation for teenagers and social change in America. When she texted 200,000 kids about campaigns to make their schools greener or to work on homeless issues, they wrote back with their own problems.

“It was an unintended consequence,” says Nancy, “We had messages like: “I was cutting. My parents found out and I stopped. But I just started again an hour ago”, or “He won’t stop raping me. He told me not to tell anyone. It’s my dad. R U there?” Yeah – we’re there. I will not forget the day we got that text message. It was that day we decided to build a crisis text hotline.”

That hotline became Crisis Text Line - also known as Shout here in the UK – and Nancy went on to be hailed as Fortune’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” alongside the Pope and Dalai Lama.

Texting is familiar and comfortable, especially to kids. It’s fast, it’s private, and no one hears you. It’s real-time.

“We could help millions of teens with counselling and referrals. But the thing that makes it awesome is the data. I’m not comfortable just helping those girls with counselling and referrals, I want to prevent that shit from happening.”

Crisis Text Line has collected one of the largest data health sets in the world. Real-time data on issues - for example, bullying, dating abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse and rape – provides unique insight into mental health trends to ultimately help improve people’s lives. The data is always anonymised and individual conversations are never shared.

As COVID-19 grips the planet, Crisis Text Line is reaching into the quarantined homes of the vulnerable, the scared, the lonely and bereaved. In the US during the coronavirus, Crisis Text Lines has noted a two-times increase in child abuse, domestic violence and substance abuse. “Anxiety” and “grief” are some of the most frequently texted words now, but on a positive note, the word “mom” has found new meaning:

“Normally “mom” shows up as a pain point - a source of pressure, stress and anxiety – but right now everyone wants their mom. They are a source of solace. People are concerned about them, turning to them, living with them.”

In the UK, people can text SHOUT for free to 85258 and a trained Crisis Volunteer will get back in touch. They will then use trained techniques via text on Shout’s private and secure platform. Expect a listening ear, empathy and calm, collaborative problem-solving. They will then signpost to specific services or specialist charities for further help and longer-term support.

Crisis Volunteers are real people from all around the UK that have been through a multi-stage application process, background check and training program. They volunteer for 2-4 hours a week, at their own convenience, from home in their pj’s if they want to.

“This is a phenomenal time to train to be a crisis counsellor. It's strangers helping strangers in their darkest moments.”

Nancy hopes that the data that they are sharing might help to change legislation in the US and inspire national coordination of services that people can access more easily.

“My real dream would be to go out of business," says Nancy, "To have people be happy, or, if not, to have the services and protocols in place so people get what they need. But – unfortunately – I think pain is a growth industry.”

Listen to Nancy on the Masters of Scale podcast here.

Or her Ted Talk here.

If you’re interested in volunteering 2-4 hours of your time each week to support people via text, then you can apply to be a Crisis Volunteer here.