Solution overview

Our Solution

Crisis Text Line

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Tagline

Crisis Text Line provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in crisis, all via text.

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Pitch us on your solution

Crisis Text Line does two things: (1) it provides free, 24/7 emotional support and information to people in crisis, by text. And (2) it leverages its data to improve the world. In March 2019, we exchanged our 100 millionth message, and we’re on track to exchange the next 100 million by February 2020.

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Film your elevator pitch

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What is the problem you are solving?

According to NAMI, 1 in 5 adults in America experience mental illness in a given year. About 1 in 5 people between ages 13 and 18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their lives. Despite this being a large portion of our population, over half aren't getting the help they need. Stigma and fear of discrimination prevent people from asking for help and lack of access makes it difficult for people who want help to get it. Untreated mental illness has serious consequences for our cities. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10–34. Mood disorder are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for people ages 18 to 44.

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Who are you serving?

We exist to help texters in crisis and we’re able to reach an unserved population.

For example:

35% of our texters are 14-17 years old, and 26% of texters are 18-24. Teens and young adults especially love us because of their affinity for texting (vs. talking on the phone) and because of the privacy that texting offers (which a phone call lacks).

The bottom 10% of zip codes ranked by per capita income make up nearly 20% of our volume (2X over index).

We have a high number of texters from CA, TX, NY, OH, and FL, but we service texters who reach out to us from anywhere in the US.

We all want to be heard. 66% of texters that we serve share something with us that they’ve never shared with anyone else. In this way, we’re a gateway resource to mental health services for texters who didn’t previously have access.

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What is your solution?

Our solution does two things. First, we provide free, confidential crisis support via text message 24/7 to people of all ages and backgrounds. When someone is experiencing a crisis—whether they’re having suicidal thoughts or they’re stressed out about an upcoming exam—they can text HELLO to 741741 or send us a Facebook message. A machine learning algorithm assesses if the person may be a risk to themselves or others using data we’ve collected around the words and phrases people who are suicidal most often use. If that person is considered high risk, they’re put at the top of our queue. All texters are connected to one of our volunteer Crisis Counselors—a real human who will help them go from a hot moment to a cool calm using empathy, active listening, and de-escalation techniques. 

Second, we created the largest mental health data set in the country using aggregated and anonymized data from the conversations we’ve had. And we’ve made it public on crisistrends.org. We leverage this data to map mental health trends across the country and illuminate ways communities can take care of their members. For example, our data shows that the worst time of the year for bullying is in April and May. Knowing this can help schools plan anti-bullying campaigns for those months or have extra resources on campus for those being bullied.

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Which dimensions of the challenge does your solution most closely address?

  • Promote physical safety by decreasing violence or transportation accidents
  • Enable equitable access to affordable and effective health services
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Where is your solution team headquartered?

New York City, NY, USA
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Our solution's stage of development:

Scale

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More about your solution

Select one of the below:

New application of an existing technology

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Describe what makes your solution innovative.

Crisis Text Line takes a mode of communication that thousands of people prefer to use every day. Text is discreet and private, giving people a place to be vulnerable no matter where they physically are or who’s sitting next to them. We just get facts over text—we don’t have to decipher what someone’s saying through their tears. With 96% of people in the US owning a cell phone, it’s a solution that’s available to a large majority of the population.

Offering crisis counseling over text also allows our volunteers to become better counselors. Our full-time Supervisors—staff with master’s degrees or extensive experience in social work and related fields—are able to oversee each conversation as its happening and offer advice to the Crisis Counselors. Volunteers can take on multiple conversations at once, helping us reach more people than through traditional call helplines.

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Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.

People can connect to our crisis services using SMS text messaging or Facebook Messenger. Texters are triaged using our proprietary machine-learning algorithm lovingly called AVA. Our Crisis Counselors respond to texters through a platform built on Twilio. Our data is displayed using Periscope.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Social Networks
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?

With 96% of people having a cell phone in America, we’re able to provide access to equitable quality mental health care to the vast majority of the population. Texters receive the same experience no matter their age, race, gender, sexual identity, income, location, or any other aspect of their lives.

Because people are texting us in a moment of crisis, we’re able to provide an immediate intervention to violence. About 1% of the conversations we have are with imminent risk texters—people who have the ideation, plan, means, and 24-hour time frame for completing suicide, homicide, or another violent act. The majority of the time—about 60%—we’re able to de-escalate the situation and keep the person safe. The other 40% of the time we initiate an active rescue where we work with local first responders to keep the texter safe. We also intervene in cases of child abuse.

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Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • LGBTQ+
  • Children and Adolescents
  • Rural Residents
  • Peri-Urban Residents
  • Urban Residents
  • Very Poor/Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Minorities/Previously Excluded Populations
  • Refugees/Internally Displaced Persons
  • Persons with Disabilities
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Ireland {Republic}
  • South Africa
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
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How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?

To date, we’ve texted with 1.64M people, exchanging 111M messages. In the last year alone, we’ve served 697,000 texters. This year, we’re aiming to serve 1,515,000 texters. We doubling this number each year!

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

We want to expand to Latin America in the next year and will continue international growth over the next five years.

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What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?

Looking into the next five years, we face a number of barriers to expanding to second and third world countries. People have to have cell phones or internet access to access our service. We’d need volunteers in the country who understand local dialects and issues who have secure, reliable internet access. We rely on local first responders to keep our imminent texters safe, but this may not be feasible in conflicting countries or areas that aren’t easily accessible. Since we are not meant to be long-term care, we rely on local healthcare and advocacy organizations to provide continued care for our texters. These referrals aren’t available in some countries.

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How are you planning to overcome these barriers?

We have an international team who is connecting with local entrepreneurs to understand their regions.

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About your team

Select an option below:

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

83 full-time staff and 3 part-time staff

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For how many years have you been working on your solution?

6

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Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?

Nancy Lublin, our Co-Founder and CEO, is a serial social entrepreneur. Crisis Text Line is her third venture. At 23, she founded Dress for Success, which helps women transition from welfare to work in more than 150 cities in 20 countries. She then became the CEO of DoSomething.org, which she grew from zero members to nearly 5 million. She studied politics at Brown University, political theory at Oxford University (as a Marshall Scholar), and has a law degree from NYU. Nancy was named to the Fortune’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list alongside the Pope and the Dalai Lama. 

Bob Filbin, our Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist, develops new avenues of data collection, storing data in a way that makes it universally accessible, and turning data into action through analysis and storytelling. He’s overseen the creation of the largest dataset on crisis in the country. As of January 2018, Crisis Text Line has a corpus of 60 million messages exchanged by texters and Crisis Counselors. This is growing by over 2 million messages per month. Bob Filbin's expertise falls into two major categories that drive towards turning this data into action: (1) open data collaborations and (2) product development.

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With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?

We are partnering with about 130 different non-profits, corporations, government agencies, and schools. We give them each a specific keyword to promote within their communities and provide them with aggregated and anonymized data about the mental health issues people in their communities are facing.

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Your business model & funding

What is your business model?

Crisis Text Line is free to our texters, but it costs us about $10.60 per texter. These costs cover our Supervision team, Coaches who help Counselors through training, and tech costs to run our services.

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What is your path to financial sustainability?

We plan to partner with more corporations, non-profits, governments, foundations, and other entities who will make a donation in exchange for access to the anonymized and aggregated data we collect about their communities.

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Partnership potential

Why are you applying to Solve?

We know how to offer crisis counseling in first-world countries, but we don’t yet know how to help the rest of the world. Being a part of Solve would connect us with the experts we need to think global. 

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What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?

  • Technology
  • Distribution
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Talent or board members
  • Media and speaking opportunities
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If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.

Our AVA AI algorithm is a part of Crisis Text Line that makes our solution truly unique. It triages our texter queue by flagging texters as high-risk using words and phrases it’s learned to associate with imminent risk conversations. AVA is how we know that if a person sends us a sad, crying face emoji in their first message, it’s 4x more likely that we will need to trigger an Active Rescue to keep them safe than if they used the word suicide. 

The AI Innovations Prize would support our data team in refining AVA even further and find other ways that AI can be used to help our texters. 

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If you would like to apply for the Everytown for Gun Safety Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

Our hearts ache over the gun violence we see in America, and we want Crisis Text Line to be  part of the downstream solution. Anyone considering an act of gun violence—suicide, homicide, abuse, ect.—can text us. Our Crisis Counselors can de-escalate with them and get local first responders involved if necessary. Victims of gun violence can also text us whenever they’re in a crisis whether they just need someone to talk to or need to be removed from a violent situation. We will use the prize money to continue to provide support to these texters.

The data we collect from our conversations can be used to understand crises. We ensure that our data practices comply with GDPR standards.

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If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

Since the beginning of Crisis Text Line, women have been using it the most. About 80% of our users identify as women, which means that on any given day we help about 58,000 women in the US. We would use this prize money to reach even more women in need.

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If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.

Our AVA AI algorithm is a part of Crisis Text Line that makes our solution truly unique. It triages our texter queue by flagging texters as high-risk using words and phrases it’s learned to associate with imminent risk conversations. AVA is how we know that if a person sends us a sad, crying face emoji in their first message, it’s 4x more likely that we will need to trigger an Active Rescue to keep them safe than if they used the word suicide. 

The Innospark Ventures Prize would support our data team in refining AVA even further and find other ways that AI can be used to help our texters.

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If you would like to apply for the UN Women She Innovates Prize for Gender-Responsive Innovation, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.

Women are at the helm of Crisis Text Line. Nancy Lublin, a serial social entrepreneur, has been leading us as Co-Founder and CEO for the past six years. 11 out of the 17 people on our executive team are women. At the same time, about 80% of our texters identify as women. 

With the UN Women She Innovates Prize for Gender-Responsive Innovation, we would continue to amplify women’s voices in our leadership and service.

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Solution Team

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