- Crisis Text Line began offering free mental health help in Spanish in mid-October, including via WhatsApp.
- Historically, there’s been a lack of representation in the mental health field, which means very few professionals can provide care in Spanish.
- Offering Crisis Text Line services in Spanish can be one step toward dismantling entrenched inequities in care, and can help normalize seeking help.
Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit that has provided free, 24/7 confidential support for people in crisis via text since 2013, began offering crisis counseling in Spanish in October.
People can now reach a volunteer crisis counselor in Spanish, English, and/or Spanglish, via text message, but also via WhatsApp—the popular, free messaging platform. Almost half of WhatsApp’s users in the U.S. identify as Latinx.
Rising mental health issues among Latinx individuals, coupled with the underrepresentation of Spanish-speaking mental health professionals in the U.S., underscores the need for the service, Mishka Pitter-Armand, chief marketing officer at Crisis Text Line, tells Get Meds Info via email.
“We know that only 5.5% of psychologists can provide services in Spanish and that the Latinx community is in pain,” she says.
Valeska Cosci, LCSW, a bilingual therapist based in California, says that offering Crisis Text Line in Spanish can serve as a step toward normalizing talking about mental health and seeking help.
“There is something nice about being able to text because it’s anonymous and less intimate than calling on the phone,” Cosci says. “Maybe it could be an incremental step to a therapist.”
What This Means For You
To be connected to a trained volunteer Crisis Counselor in Spanish, text HOLA to 741741 (SMS) or to 442-AYUDAME (WhatsApp) any time of the day.
Addressing the Need
In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people who identified as Hispanic, ages 15 to 34. Hispanic teenaged girls were also at higher risk for suicide attempts compared to non-Hispanic White girls their age.
At the same time, people identifying as Hispanic were 50% less likely to have received mental health treatment as compared to non-Hispanic White people.
Crisis Text Line’s users echoed this data, even before Spanish-speaking services were offered. Latinx texters already made up 17% of all their texters. They also tended to be younger (56% were 17 or younger) and were more likely to be female (79%) than all texters combined.
Before launching Spanish-speaking services in mid-October, Crisis Text Line ran a pilot. During it, more than 1,000 conversations in Spanish showed that Spanish-speaking texters were more likely to discuss depression, anxiety, and relationship issues than English-speaking ones.
Making Crisis Text Line available in Spanish “prioritizes Latinx teens’ mental health,” Cosci says. “I see the value of texting—it’s not as intimate and scary. It’s part of our culture now, so it doesn’t seem so vulnerable and intense,” she adds.
That’s not to say everyone who identifies as Latinx speaks Spanish, but this new addition could be vital for those who rely on the language or who feel more comfortable speaking in it.
“Stigma, access to care, and language barriers are just a few of the reasons for this disparity in mental health care,” Pitter-Armand adds. “We want to make sure that the Latinx community can speak openly about mental health challenges.”
What Is Using Crisis Text Line Like?
The need for culturally- and linguistically competent services for Latinx folks is growing.
“That’s why we launched the first crisis-response service of its kind in the United States,” Pitter-Armand says. “We hope a service like this just at their fingertips will have a positive impact for those in the LatinX community that need mental health services.”
Crisis Text Line launched in 2013 as a privately-funded nonprofit. It’s free for users 24/7 and staffed by volunteer Crisis Counselors who are always supervised by mental health professionals. It uses machine learning to rank messages in order to serve the “highest risk texters first,” Pitter-Armand adds.
But being in a full-fledged crisis, which might look like suicidal ideation, isn’t the only reason to text Crisis Text Line. Their goal, according to a press release, is to be there to help individuals in distress, bringing them from “a moment of crisis to a cool calm moment through de-escalation, problem-solving, and active listening skills.”
Your Spanish doesn’t have to be “perfect,” either. Crisis Counselors are bilingual, so Spanglish and any combination of the two languages is just fine.
“We want to make sure that the Latinx community can connect with our bilingual volunteer Crisis Counselors in a language that is comfortable to them,” Pitter-Armand says.
How Can You Help?
If you or someone you know is bilingual in Spanish and English and might be interested in being a volunteer Crisis Counselor, Pitter-Armand says Crisis Text Line is looking for you. Every volunteer completes a free 30-hour training and has 24/7 supervision by full-time Crisis Text Line mental health professionals. Crisis Text Line is currently available in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Ireland. You can find more information here.
Crisis Text Line can be there in times of crisis, offer a comforting presence, and send help if suicide risk is high. It also can work to normalize help-seeking behavior.
But Cosci asks: What next?
“I think [Crisis Text Line] is a great thing,” she says, but the next step is getting users connected to longer-term sources of support. “Once we can identify people at risk, how do we get them connected to the appropriate resources?” she asks.
Connecting individuals to mental health professionals is crucial. But integrating communities— getting people together in pop-up mental health fairs, for example, where they can meet others and talk openly about experiences in person, could be what some really want and need.
“I think having that grassroots community outreach would be so important, in addition to things like WhatsApp,” she says. “The pandemic has really highlighted that technology and texting can’t replace our ability to connect and get together.”