What happens when you text the Crisis Text Line?

Updated: May 2, 2020

Have you ever seen information about the Crisis Text Line? Well, pretty much like it sounds, it’s a place you can text if you’re in crisis (what “crisis” means is up to you), accessible by texting “hello” (or anything, actually) to 741-741. It sounds like an awesome resource, right? But what exactly happens if you decide to text in?

I started volunteering at the Crisis Text Line a few months ago, and have since learned a ton about it. But before I was someone who answered the texts that come in, I was someone who sent them.

I had texted in on maybe three different occasions in the past, but never really had a whole conversation. I hate making phone calls, so it made me a lot less nervous to text rather than calling a hotline (like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available at 1-800-273-8255). Still, every time I texted, I was SO apprehensive about it, and always ended up just ending the conversation. Now that I have a better idea of what the text line does, I wanted to address the major concerns my past self had about using the resource, with the hope it might address someone else’s apprehension, too.

My worries basically came down to two major concerns: 1) I didn’t know how texting in could help, and 2) I frankly didn’t want to bother anyone. Here’s what I can tell you now about these worries.

Worry #1: I didn’t know how texting in could help

While I was training to be a volunteer at the Crisis Text Line, I was taught over and over that “the goal of a conversation is to bring texters from a hot moment to a cool calm.” I don’t know why their promotional materials don’t include this information–I think it’s so useful to know that’s what someone will help you do when you text in!

Personally, when I’ve texted in, I’ve always been at such a low point that it feels like I’ve tried everything, and that nothing else anyone could suggest could possibly help. The text line isn’t a magic cure-all or long-term solution, but it IS about helping you get through that moment, that evening, that one more day. It’s also about giving you a big vote of confidence that you can do it. I think both of those things (a focus on getting through just right now and a reminder you can do it) can be so helpful, even at your lowest.

How will they help you do this? The crisis counselor who will text you back is trained to go through five stages of a conversation with you:

  1. Getting to know you. They will ask you what lead you to text in and how you are feeling about it. They will also ask your name, but you’re not obligated to tell them. It’s totally anonymous to text in.

  2. Risk assessment. The crisis counselor will ask you if you’re feeling suicidal. If you are, they’ll ask for some more details, such as if you have a plan and the means to carry it out. It’s hard to talk about these things, but the crisis counselor is trained for it, they care, and they want to talk about it with you. Whether or not you’re feeling suicidal, they’ll help you make a plan for staying safe and getting through your crisis.

  3. Identifying a goal for helping you feel better. The crisis counselor might not ask this straight out, but they will ask you questions to help identify a goal for the conversation.

  4. Collaborative problem solving. The crisis counselor will talk to you about things like what’s been helpful in the past when you feel this way, about who you have in your social network you could talk to, or all sorts of possible things to get you from that hot moment to a cool calm. They also have several online resources for things like exercises to help you feel more calm, places where you can find services in your area, or resources for individuals in your situation that they might ask to share with you. They won’t tell you what to do, but will guide you in making a plan for yourself to get through this tough time.

  5. A warm ending. Once you’ve come up with a plan together, the crisis counselor will send you off with a warm goodbye, and usually a reminder that someone will answer 24/7 if you find yourself in crisis again.

Worry #2: I didn’t want to bother anyone

I’m a shy person, and taking to anyone about the dark stuff going on in my head was really scary. Here’s what I wish I had known in those moments:

  1. The person you’re chatting with is trained to talk about hard stuff. It’s not going to shock them if you talk about things like suicidal thoughts–or just stuff about how you had a fight with a friend and you feel awful.

  2. Sometimes there might be a delay between your text and them replying. They might even ask you to clarify what you’re saying at some point. This DOES NOT mean that they don’t care or that they’re annoyed or anything like that. They might just need a moment to compose their thoughts, too!

  3. The are still humans, and they might not always say the perfect thing, but…

  4. They have training and tools to help you

  5. They are talking with you because they genuinely care

  6. You will be treated with 100% respect (remembering they’re still humans!)

  7. You’re not bothering anyone. To talk to people like you IS WHY THEY’RE THERE.

The Crisis Text Line is an amazing resource where you’ll get support from caring, encouraging individuals. Remember THEY’RE THERE FOR YOU whenever you’re in crisis–whatever that means for you. Reach them by texting “hello” to 741-741.

Do you have other questions or concerns about using the service? Leave a comment–I’ll see if I can answer.

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