Three of four Canadians own smartphones and texting is the overwhelming communication mode of choice for people 18-29.
Faced with those statistics, the Vancouver Island Crisis Society started Crisis Text in October, which now operates alongside the society’s online chat service. The text-line rollout was done in schools by directly engaging students, handing out promotional materials and encouraging students to call or text to get acquainted with the program.
“So they could kind of give it a dry run before there is a problem,” said Heather Owen, society spokeswoman. “We’re finding that kids are really responding to it.”
Crisis line volunteers field more than 30,000 calls annually, not including online chats and texts. Since October, Crisis Text has seen a significant uptake among 11-14-year-olds.
Nearly 1,000 texts and chats combined have come through since October and Crisis Line volunteers are discovering text or online chat communication is much different from what volunteers experience with voice conversations.
“What we find is they get right to the problem,” Owen said. “It’s like, ‘I’m having problems with this. I’m feeling depressed. I don’t know where to turn,’ and they just get right into it.”
Voice conversations begin more tentatively, similar to a first meeting between two people, with both listening for voice inflection, pauses, tone or any hint of judgement on the part of the other.
“The safety issue is – if for some reason they don’t like what’s going on – they just have to click, and you’re gone,” Owen said.
The vast majority of cellular communication today is via text, especially among young people, and is far from being a limiting form of communication. Owen has witnessed teenagers resolve awkward, difficult or embarrassing issues quickly and efficiently with text messaging.
“I have a teenager and I thought … you guys are never going to be able to have a decent conversation with someone because you’re always texting and stuff until I saw her have a disagreement with someone,” Owen said.
The issue, which involved a misinterpreted comment, was resolved via text in about 10 minutes.
“It avoided all kinds of hurt feelings, things getting blown out of proportion, so I have a new respect for that kind of communication,” Owen said.
Crisis Text and online chat is available 6-10 p.m. daily.
For more information about the society, please visit www.vicrisis.ca.