Texting as Part of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: It’s About Time

A few weeks ago, I was listening to the news and heard that starting next year, people could dial the 988 number to reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline through texting, not just calling.[1]

And when I heard about this, I thought the following: it’s about time. Actually, it’s beyond time.

I should start by saying that having a phone number to dial for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is immensely helpful to have. It can be a vital resource for those in crisis.

However, there are many people who may not be able to, or may not feel comfortable, calling a phone number to talk out loud with someone. Among those who fall into this category are:

  • People who lack the privacy to talk on the phone about what is making them suicidal.
  • People who feel most comfortable expressing what they are going through by way of text messages instead of a phone call.
  • People from marginalized communities for whom marginalization within their own homes is why they feel suicidal. People in the LGBTQ+ community who are not accepted within their own homes come to mind for me, but there are other groups that I’m sure experience this.
  • People who have certain kinds of conditions that prevent them from speaking, but still allow them to write. One example of this for me is that there are some people who are nonverbal because of autism yet are able to communicate through written word.

For those wondering about the Lifeline’s online chat, while it may be helpful in certain circumstances, it faces many of the same shortcomings as calling does for many of the same groups of people, as well as other shortcomings that calling does not face. One notable shortcoming unique to the online chat is that people who are concerned about their online whereabouts being tracked might not want to go to the Lifeline’s chat in the first place. Another issue is that if demand for the chat is too high, people are directed to a list of “Helpful Resources” or calling the lifeline, meaning that the chat is not an option in some cases even if it might be otherwise preferable to calling. While the online chat can be helpful in certain circumstances, there are still large groups of people for whom the online chat is not a viable option, even if one were to assume that someone was available to do the online chatting in the first place.

While I have highlighted the shortcomings of both the dial-in Helpline and the Lifeline’s online chat, this is not to say that texting is going to be perfect. The biggest potential pitfall I can see of the texting element of the Helpline is that texting, in general, can result in major misunderstandings under the best of circumstances, but that in the worst of circumstances could lead to someone taking their life. This is a potential pitfall that I assume the Lifeline is aware of, and one that the Lifeline will have to work to try and prevent.

Even with this pitfall, what it boils down to is that there are many groups of people who will be helped by the existence of a texting element of the Suicide Prevention Helpline, and it is beyond time that such a thing exists. I am so incredibly glad that this will be coming into place next year—it can’t come soon enough for some of the most mentally and emotionally vulnerable among us.

Until such time that the texting Helpline is in place, though, you can call the Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with the Lifeline if you need help.


[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Health/fcc-decide-texting-upcoming-suicide-prevention-lifeline-988/story?id=81254458

Ageism and Technology

A few weeks ago, I was waiting for a train, and a woman came up to me asking how to fix her problems in WhatsApp.

I wasn’t able to fix the problems that she was encountering with her WhatsApp. But my inability to fix the woman’s issues with her WhatsApp was not what led me to write this blog post.

Instead, it was something that the woman said, after concluding that I would be of no help in fixing her issues. She said something along the lines of: “I thought that, since you were a younger person, you would know how to fix this issue.”

“Since you were a younger person, you would know how to fix this issue.”

Now I really believe that this woman was well-intentioned, and I’m not mad at her. Not one bit. But at the same time, I think that this quote is only a microcosm of ageist attitudes when it comes to technology. Namely, the idea that all young people know their technology, and that all old people don’t know their technology.

Such attitudes are widespread. From a YouTube video with over 4 million views called “Old People vs Technology” to that one person at the subway station asking me about WhatsApp the other day, there is this generalized assumption that old people are technologically clueless while younger people like me are technologically adept.

Based on many statistics, as well as personal experiences, that isn’t necessarily a fair assumption to make. While it is true that people ages 65 and older have internet, cell phones, and broadband at lower rates than the rest of the United States population, 47% of seniors had broadband, 59% of seniors had internet, and a staggering 77% of seniors had cell phones as of 2014.[1] Basically, there is a large population of seniors who are technologically adept and buck the notion that seniors have no clue when it comes to technology. While more people under 65 than over 65 know these things, the population of “over 65s” who know technology and work with it is quite large.

So, the next time you are encountering technology struggles, don’t automatically think that a young person will automatically bail you out of your troubles, or that an older person would automatically be clueless on how to help you. Sometimes, the person most able to help you with technology woes is not who you expect. 


[1] http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/