Crisis Text Line uses Big Data to Save Lives

Posted on: December 12, 2016, by: Semaphore

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Nancy Lubin, former CEO of Do and founder of The Crisis Text Line (CTL) has found a way to help people in crisis and at the same time, leverage the information found in text messages to provide valuable insight to schools, researchers, mental health practitioners and non-profits to help those in need. Crisis Text Line is the first and only national, 24/7 crisis-intervention hotline to conduct its conversations exclusively via text message. Quietly launched in 2013 in Chicago and El Paso, their market grew to incorporate all 295 area codes in the US in 4 months with no marketing.

In its first two years in existence, CTL handled 6.5 million text messages that’s Big Data and encompasses volume, velocity and variety. Each day as many as 350 people text messages to trained, volunteer counselors and the information from those conversations is providing insight into how to reach people before they are in crisis.

Messages are auto tagged using Natural Language Processing and statistical algorithms, which allow them to do predictive analytics and draw conclusions based on the context and meaning found in the messages. They can tell you that:

  • Mondays are the worst day of the week for eating disorders
  • If someone texts the words numbs and sleeve there is a 99% match for cutting
  • If you text in the words mg and rubber band there is a 99% match for substance abuse

Counselors are alerted in real-time with suggested follow-up questions or information about clinics or additional support services close to the person in crisis. And when a counselor receives a text that says “I want to die” or “I want to kill myself” that person is moved to the top of the queue for immediate attention – timing is critical. Thirty percent of the texts received deal with suicide and depression; CTL averages 2.4 active rescues each day.

CTL has the first map of real-time crisis information for schools, government, researchers and non-profit organizations to analyze and make plans that support those in need. And the best part, CTL is making the information available to the public at free of charge after all personally identifiable information has been removed.

“Suicide prevention is a complex topic without easy answers. Open data will help the broad ecosystem of those working on solutions to gain insights and shed new light on patterns and subtleties never before detected. Crisis Text Line’s open data release is an example of collaborative, innovative non-governmental action that can save lives,” says Megan Smith, the United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In the same way police use comp stats to prevent crimes, CTL data can be used to bring mental health issues to the forefront to drive change. Through the power of technology, analytics, semantics and Big Data, Nancy Lubin is inspired to use technology for good and make the world a better place.

To start a Crisis Text Line conversation, text START to 741-741.

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