Bob Filbin

15 December 2020

3 min read

This year has had an incredible effect on the mental health of people around the world, as they face increased depression, anxiety, and isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about how some are using new forms of communication and technology to receive help, we asked Bob Filbin, founder and Chief Data Scientist of the Crisis Text Line, what trends they are seeing emerge in 2020.

Tell us about Crisis Text Line.

Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 text support for those in crisis. People in need can reach out from anywhere in the U.S. to text with a trained crisis counselor. Our mission of helping texters in their most vulnerable moments is at the forefront of our work. For nearly seven years, Crisis Text Line has exchanged more than 150 million messages in support of people in crisis.

Describe how you leverage technology to deliver a better mental health solution.

Crisis Text Line aims to create a compassionate world by ensuring each and every person, regardless of race and individual experience, can access the support, connections, and resources they need for mental well-being and resilience. By providing text-based support, we are able to successfully deliver a mental health solution for all people in crisis.

Describe how you leverage technology to deliver a better mental health solution.

We aim to create a compassionate world by ensuring each and every person, regardless of race and individual experience, can access the support, connections, and resources they need for mental well-being and resilience. By providing text-based support, Crisis Tech Line is able to successfully deliver a mental health solution for all people in crisis.

How does CTL use algorithms and modeling to manage the delivery of care and support to your users?

Crisis Text Line uses an algorithm to triage incoming text messages so that we can prioritize people at the highest level of risk. The algorithm relies on the language of the texter to assess if a person in crisis is experiencing suicidal thoughts, and has the plan, the means, and a timeframe to carry out their plans.

This has helped us get to more than 95 percent of high-risk texters in under five minutes. Once a texter is assigned a crisis counselor, the crisis counselor also provides a human assessment of the level of risk.

2020 was truly a unique year where an unprecedented number of people globally experienced financial, emotional, and mental challenges. What trends did you see in your data that highlight the unique challenge mental health service providers faced?

Data is never perfect; it provides a story based on an incomplete set of information. Our data is no different. We think Crisis Text Line has an important perspective to add to the national conversation, but it’s important to note that our data is not representative of all people in the U.S., nor is it representative of what all people in crisis are experiencing.

That said, 2020 was a busy year for Crisis Text Line amid a pandemic and divisive election. In the United States, we have seen a 30 percent increase in the number of average conversations per week when we compared March-November 2020 to the three months prior.

With more than 180,000 text conversations started, November 2020 was the highest-volume month in Crisis Text Line’s history.

We have seen an increase in the percentage of conversations that referenced anxiety, from 22.6 percent of engaged conversations on average in December 2019 through February 2020 to 24.4 percent of engaged conversations on average from March to November.

Based on a voluntary survey, more than 70 percent of respondents among our texters continue to feel stress or anxiety because of COVID-19.

Finally, we have seen that texter survey respondents in the youngest age groups -- 17 and under -- have been texting later into the night than before. While between January and October 2109, 24 percent of these texters reached out to Crisis Text Line between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m., while in the same period in 2020, 34 percent of them did.

In what ways did the pandemic change your plans or product roadmap for 2021? Are you investing in different technologies or features?

We have made a number of important changes to our roadmap. An example is that we added a whole new product to our roadmap in order to increase access to students specifically, but also teachers and people generally that are at home on video calls all day long.

We are now creating a WebChat function that will launch in the new year. This allows students and lower-income folks that don't have access to their own individual devices to reach out to us. This is especially important for folks that might be in abusive circumstances and would put themselves at risk for reaching out on the same device shared with an abuser.

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