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February 10, 2015 4:48 AM   Subscribe

A new counselling service harnesses the power of the text message. Depression is common among teens, and its consequences are volatile: suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of ten and twenty-four. In that same age group, the use of text messaging is near-universal. The average adolescent sends almost two thousand text messages a month. They contact their friends more by text than by phone or e-mail or instant-message or even face-to-face conversations. For teens, texting isn’t a novel form of communication; it’s the default.
posted by ellieBOA (45 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Two thousand messages a month on average ?! That's ~70 messages per day, looks suspiciously high for an average figure - but then again who cares what old farts like me think.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:08 AM on February 10, 2015


That's ~70 messages per day, looks suspiciously high for an average figure

I think that's actually pretty close to correct. I'm 34, and send probably 30 texts a day. I assume younger people do it at least twice as often.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:14 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's ~70 messages per day, looks suspiciously high for an average figure

I don't know, I'm 30 and it's 2pm where I am, I've sent 20 messages already today!
posted by ellieBOA at 5:15 AM on February 10, 2015


I've noticed that my daughter will send several short texts in a row (that I or her mother would have sent as one longer message). I think it's a thing with those new-fangled smart-phones that they send what you're writing at the drop of a hat. This may inflate the texting figures.
posted by Jpfed at 5:31 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


In our jurisdiction, social workers routinely use texting to communicate with their clients -- to the point where government switched its cellphone plan to one that included unlimited texting. I expect more of this, as more and more unplug their landlines.
posted by Mogur at 5:40 AM on February 10, 2015


From following teens and college kids sometimes on twitter (do not judge me) I'd say there are already lots of young people using their rando followers as support in exactly the same way. It's just easier to say how you feel to strangers. This is a really good thing I think and I hope they eventually expand to support video chat and even social media private messaging.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:40 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh this woman founded Dress for Success too? She rules. Also here is their data site. Very interesting stuff, especially which states rank first for different kinds of crises.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:50 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


The act of writing, even if the product consists of only a hundred and forty characters

I think they're confusing texting with Twitter. Isn't SMS limited to 160 characters?
posted by andythebean at 6:07 AM on February 10, 2015


If you think of it as 70 chat messages it sounds reasonable. On my first mobile text messages were 20c each (and I was broke) so I made each message go a long way. Now, texts are cheap or free on WiFi, and integrated with chat apps (eg google hangouts) which very much changes the way the medium is used.
posted by piyushnz at 6:09 AM on February 10, 2015


I had a friend (not even that young, she's 25), once respond to the third e-mail in a chain with "let's take this conversation to text, friend." I don't get it, but it's what the kids are doing these days.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:13 AM on February 10, 2015


I'm almost 40 and I'd rather text message than any other form of communication outside of Forum Post.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:18 AM on February 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


this is awesome.

i probably had 70 texts between two different friends last night alone.
i've been awake for an hour and have already received 2 and sent 2.

and i'm ... ugh... 36

i just counted. with one friend we each had 50 texts in our convo.

but this is because we'll do things like (each line is a text):

HIM hey did you see what's his bame
HIM i mean name
ME joan?
ME maybe, it's been a while
ME what about you?


so yeah, 70 messages isn't that much. of course this was over an entire day.

sometimes it's less but an average "converastion" is probably between 5 -20 texts on both sides. if it's about Feelings and Stuff, it's probably more.
posted by sio42 at 6:20 AM on February 10, 2015


What an interesting article. Remarkable woman. The data that is coming out of this project is phenomenal!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:20 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Samaritans have been providing text support since at least 2010 (which is when I was a volunteer and was trained to answer them). It can be really challenging to come up with something supportive that doesn't sound like a robot sent it in so few characters. We definitely got more contacts from teenagers through that service, insofar as you can tell on an anonymous helpline where the details someone discloses might or might not be true.

It looks like they're not advertising the number widely now because of how difficult it is to give an immediate response when you're staffed with a limited number of volunteers on short shifts. I guess most people would expect quite a quick response to a text and when someone feels bad enough to be texting a support service, to not get a quick reply could be more damaging.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 6:20 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


1. Comments (w images)
2. Forum post (no images)
3. Emoji
4. Text
5. Gif Email
6. @
7. DM
8. Snapchat
9. IG comment
10. Facetime
...
...
100. Phone conversation
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:23 AM on February 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think it would be helpful to mass distribute some early warning signs to parents that their child might be heading down the road of depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc. Our society only treats when the symptoms become an illness and is much harder to cure, we need to focus more on well care.

My child just started using Instagram and I can already see those of his friends who have an unhealthy relationship with it and how it's probably a cry for help. I'll bet their parents are clueless to it, too self-involved and egocentric to give their child the attention they are craving from strangers. I actually met one at a party this past weekend. I regret not asking him how he feels about his daughter's 12 selfie per week habit, but we had only just met and it would have been awkward. 70 texts a day seems unhealthy to me at any age. (Yes millennials, I'm saying your entire generation has a problem) Anyone who needs such constant validation of their thoughts cannot be a healthy member of society. Groupthink leads to average thoughts and ideas. At that point it's an addiction and should be treated as such. Just because the majority is doing it doesn't mean they aren't sick, we only need to look to Fox News for proof of that.
posted by any major dude at 6:26 AM on February 10, 2015


You could have written that comment 30 years ago about having a mohawk, piercings and tattoos.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:30 AM on February 10, 2015 [13 favorites]


The majority of kids didn't have mohawks, piercings or tatoos 30 years ago, the correct analogy would probably be how many hours of tv we were watching. I doubt anyone has done any credible research that maintains it's had anything but an adverse affect on our development. I'm talking about kids growing up in an over-digitized society where it's the norm for them to be staring at pixels for the overwhelming majority of their waking hours. I do my best to limit it with my children and they still spend 2x more time than I'd like with it. It's fucking frightening that they might be considered social outcasts if I limit their use any further, no one really sees this as a problem.
posted by any major dude at 6:40 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how a text message can take the place of the hours long phone heart-to-hearts we used to have while locked up in the other room with the cord stretched as long it would go. That's when your bestie would let you know she had your back.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:51 AM on February 10, 2015


Huh, looks like I am an Old - I haven't sent 70 messages this month total. My preferred forms of long-distance communication are:

(1) yelling into the phone
(2) e-mail
(3) IM if it's too short for an email
(4) snail mail if it's too long

But anyway, looks like these people are doing good work, I hope I haven't derailed this conversation too much.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:53 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm an Old too, but I text a lot more than I thought I ever would--most of my conversations during the day with Mrs. Example are via text. It's pretty great because we don't disturb people around us and we can do stuff in text like STUPID IRONIC YELLING that wouldn't work all that well in a voice call.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:05 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think they're confusing texting with Twitter. Isn't SMS limited to 160 characters?

I don't know whether it still is "under the hood" but from a user perspective, no, not any more. For a while on old phones my texts were split up into 160-char chunks; these days on smartphones it's all one big blob. For all I know it's fragmenting somewhere along the line, but that's entirely invisible to the end user.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2015


Oh my God, Potomac Avenue, are you secretly me?

Because I will try almost anything to get out of a voice conversation, and if I can manage to get my message across with text (or a few ridiculous images), then that's what I'll do.

I have a hard time making out what people are saying over the phone (especially if they're outdoors), but mostly it's because it's so much easier for me - I can send piles of mesages to the husband or to my friends without worrying about disturbing everyone else at work. Or being that person on the bus (you all know exactly what I mean, and, no, we all didn't want to hear about how your nephew/boyfriend/father is going to prison / your niece/girlfriend/mother is pregnant with her seventh / your grandmother/neighbour/homeless friend has two months to live).

If an all-text helpline had existed when I was a teenager, you better believe I would have been on that thing all the time. And I would have volunteered to help too.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:21 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


You could have written that comment 30 years ago about having a mohawk, piercings and tattoos.

Except 30 years ago, having a mohawk, piercings and tattoos was nominally a rebellion against the status quo - and 30 years forward, the status quo is always-on mobile tech-mediated life. The analogue 30 years ago wouldn't have been punk, it would have been... fax machines?

Really, there is no analogy, because there's never been a technological moment like this in human history. We don't yet know how it's changing us.
posted by Mike Smith at 7:52 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Step 1: Invent technology.
Step 2: Freak out about how your kids are using that technology.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The "always-on life" isn't comparable to mohawks and piercings and tattoos.

Texts and the internet are comparable to having windows and doors in your house. I'm sure kids think about the internet just about as much as they think about double glazing. The internet isn't a thing in itself; it's the window through which you see everything else, or the door through which you pass. It's the medium in which we float.

We just have much more expressive mediums for culture and counter-culture now, which is probably why 30 years ago nobody was engaging in punk via fax.
posted by emilyw at 8:37 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I work at a therapeutic high school. Our students generally have not experienced success in their other placements, and a lot of them have pretty massive school anxiety/school refusal.

One of the most successful interventions I've put into place this year was to create a G**gle number that I give to my students, with parental permission. On days that they come to school, I check in with them at the end of the day, telling them what great work they did. I usually text them every morning, telling them something fun that's going to happen or sometimes a funny cat picture. When they aren't in by 9; I always text them, "What's up?" and we work through what's going on. Sometimes I remind them of the absence policy, or we're having pizza for lunch, or we're having a dance party instead of Study. Sometimes I just say I'll miss their smiling face.

Here's the thing: the kids that I have this texting conversation with; these kids come to school.

I got a boatload of administrative pushback about this idea, but they will not argue with the results.
posted by kinetic at 8:52 AM on February 10, 2015 [33 favorites]


This idea that you should spend your entire life conforming to what whoever happens to be in their 20's now is doing really needs to die. You're not "an Old" because you don't spend lots of time texting, you're old because you were born a long time ago. Nothing can change that.
posted by thelonius at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2015


That's ~70 messages per day, looks suspiciously high for an average figure

One of my former coworkers ran over the company texting plan. He was accidentally signed up for the 400 texts a month when he was supposed to have unlimited. Anyway, the department got a bill for $170. That was ten cents a text for each after 400. I made fun of him asking him is his 14 year old girlfriend was breaking up with him and such, but that comes out to be about 70 a day.

Texting is one of those things old people won't get things that I adopted. It's my preferred method of communication (I'm 44). I still write in full sentences with proper punctuation, but getting ahold of me in any other manner isn't as effective.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:03 AM on February 10, 2015


As a millennial, olds freaking out about things freaks me out.
posted by halifix at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't text much, but if I think of texts as the equivalent of my tweets and IMs, that doesn't seem all that out of line to me as someone who mostly grew up with the internet from a pretty young age.

More on topic, this counselling service is such a great idea. I'm all for hotlines being provided in as many modalities as possible - different people have uses for and hangups about different modalities, and it sucks a lot if someone's phone anxiety is what keeps them from getting help they desperately need, when a change of communication venue would eliminate that problem.
posted by Stacey at 9:17 AM on February 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I usually text them every morning, telling them something fun that's going to happen or sometimes a funny cat picture.

I have a few young men who come to school just so they can avoid the funny cat picture.
posted by kinetic at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


70 texts a day seems unhealthy to me at any age. (Yes millennials, I'm saying your entire generation has a problem)

Any other forms of communication that you think should be rationed out? I'm mere weeks from my 40th birthday and I sent 55 text messages yesterday, and yesterday was a slow day.
posted by KathrynT at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing: the kids that I have this texting conversation with; these kids come to school.

I got a boatload of administrative pushback about this idea, but they will not argue with the results.


I've been trying without much success to get the therapeutic program I'm in (as a client) to use some kind of SMS. What we have for crisis moments is a pager to call--which is a different number depending on what day and what time of day it is, and who to page when changes every month. And they don't get back to you for 15-20 minutes. This is obviously ridiculous for someone in crisis, especially for people like me and Potomac Avenue and others who avoid telephone conversations at all costs.

Being able to text the on-call therapist with "AUGH HALP feeling this thing" would be excellent.

70 texts a day seems unhealthy to me at any age. (Yes millennials, I'm saying your entire generation has a problem)

How is it unhealthy? 70 texts, vocally, would be maybe ten minutes of conversation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:51 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm 38 *sob* and I mostly communicate by text. The only people I speak to on the phone if I can help it are my brother, because he lives in another country, and my parents. Even then, 90% of my conversations with my brother are by text and about 50% with my Mum, who is 67 but loves texting (and she really loves her an emoji!).

Being snobbish about any form of communication is nonsense. Are you able to make contact with other humans? Excellent. Do I give any fucks about how you achieve that? Not even one. Young people like to text, they need help, these people help them by text. Stop sniping about screen time and give them a bloody award.
posted by billiebee at 11:00 AM on February 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


I withdraw the mohawk comparison and replace it with 60 years & Rock and Roll.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2015


Honestly, I am so over the anti-selfie shit. I really am. I'm deliberately taking more selfies because my friends like seeing my face. Crazy, I know, but they like me and want to see me and my cat, or the cool thing I saw, or whatever. And yes it damn well is about validation. The whole world wants to tell me I'm fat and ugly and worthless unless I buy X or starve or spend hours at the gym - a quick selfie and kind words from friends helps undo that.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:32 PM on February 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wow, that was a very moving article. (And I was fascinated that she was the same person who founded Dress for Success.) This sounds like a great program and I am very glad it's succeeded the way that it has.

One of my friends has been working as a counsellor for I think about 20 years or so (he's about 60). He's very, very good at what he does and is an empathetic, smart person. But he is vehemently against providing counselling in any way other than face-to-face. This includes over the phone, IM, or, I imagine, via text.

When I asked him about his reasoning, he said he doesn't think phone counselling indicates the client has the same commitment to the process as face to face; my counterargument was that there are some people who will never, ever access counselling of any sort if it means they have to come to a particular place and sit face to face with someone. However, they might be more open to it if they could do in a way that was more comfortable and less threatening for them. For some people, that's over the phone or it's IM or texting. In my opinion, even if it doesn't work as well as face-to-face (and I'm unconvinced of this, by the way), it's better the person accesses some help than gets no help at all.

I say all this as someone who likes texting as a method of communication but prefers face-to-face in a counselling situation. It's just that I know not everyone is like me and for some people, texting might be the only way they can feel comfortable accessing help.

On a different note: I loved her response to the guy who thought she was nuts for not wanting to profit from the data they collect:
Lublin hopes that the data will eventually be useful to school districts and police departments. “The corpus of data has the volume, velocity, and variety to really draw meaningful conclusions,” she told me. Lublin also mentioned that many people have told her that she is “crazy” for not wanting to sell the data that have been collected. A hedge-fund manager said that he would happily pay for a subscription that allowed him access to crisis trends. “I was basically, like, You’re a jerk,” she recalled thinking.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:44 PM on February 10, 2015


For some people, that's over the phone or it's IM or texting. In my opinion, even if it doesn't work as well as face-to-face (and I'm unconvinced of this, by the way), it's better the person accesses some help than gets no help at all.

And when you're talking about a generation who was raised online, this is a perfectly normal thing to them. It's frustrating when we apply outmoded standards to the way kids today communicate. We can't ignore that this is how they talk to each other; and if a person can access some level of help via text, why would anyone shit on it? This is how the kids connect. Let's use it to help them.
posted by kinetic at 4:51 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


My facebook chat log from half an hour ago includes the following (paraphrased slightly):
ME: yeah that's definitely on the 'talk to your doctor immediately' list
FRIEND: well I was going to give it a week
FRIEND: they'll probably be sick of the sight of me
ME: oh really, two doctor's visits! practically living in there!
ME: but yeah, it's on the list, they're not going to be surprised if you call
... my friend has just started taking medication for a mental health problem, following a whole bunch of things with some suicidal ideation sprinkled on top. She's living in tiny, thin-walled flat in the Land of Winter, and sharing said flat with three people who she would rather didn't overhear her conversations. Also, the depression/anxiety/everything is making it hard for her to speak out loud; the first time she tried to make a doctor's appointment by phone she ended up hanging up on them because she couldn't find the words. (and I am so proud of her for managing to do it the second time).

So yeah, I'm all in favour of anything that actually helps, well done this person.
posted by Lebannen at 6:05 PM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I volunteer on a crisis line for teens that allows them to contact us by phone and text.

Over the last year or so, the number of texts we receive has far exceeded the number of calls coming in.

They text us because they don't want to be overheard by friends or bullies, because they live in close quarters and have no privacy, because it means that they don't have to disappear for a long time from whatever they're supposed to be doing, because it might be safer for them than a phone call and safety matters when you live with an abuser, because they're freaking out In the middle of a party and don't want anyone there to know.

Texting makes it possible for people who might not otherwise reach out for help--who might not otherwise be able to reach out for help--to do so.

Long live texting.
posted by chicainthecity at 9:13 PM on February 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thanks, chicainthecity. I thought the article was fascinating. If there had been this kind of thing when I was a kid, it would have been really helpful. I'm 39. I don't text a huge amount but I can easily see the benefits.
posted by amanda at 9:31 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh boy. I got 3 hours of sleep last night. Partly because I was texting with a young friend in crisis.

Low-bandwidth communication. I'm terribly sorry, I love texting. However, it can not work as well as voice, and those are both less than video. Nuance of speech and body language add far too much to so casually dismiss them.

At least, to an old guy like me, maybe. I can certainly say, I can DO things for a friend, with my voice, i can't do with text. (sooth, get them to calm down) Even then, not the same as in person. With internet friends so distant, I've suffered from intense awareness of being unable to do for them what I could in person.

And so often things are taken wrong, via text, and then it's a mess of more text to sort that out. Where confusion would not have happened, with voice. Maybe there's a skill to avoid that?

Much as I like being about to support a friend having a crisis, with the convenience of text, the inability to adequately communicate nuance detracted from the value significantly.
posted by Goofyy at 4:26 AM on February 11, 2015


However, it can not work as well as voice, and those are both less than video. Nuance of speech and body language add far too much to so casually dismiss them.

The kids don't seem to have any trouble communicating all necessary nuance via text. Maybe it's us old folks who are doing it wrong?
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:01 AM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Faint: That's exactly what I want to understand.
posted by Goofyy at 6:04 AM on February 11, 2015


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