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The Mass Media

Crisis Text Etiquette

“I’ve been praying for someone to save me, but no one’s heroic.” — Lyrics from “1-800-273-8255” by Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid.

News flash: I am not a superhero. I cannot read other people’s minds.

In fact, it is probably the same for you reading this. I mean, it would be so much more helpful if other people could read my mind when I am in a crisis. Unfortunately we do not live in that kind of world. How weird would it be if we did?

This is why it is so important to communicate, advocate, communicate, and advocate for one’s self when in, or preferably before, a crisis.

But, how do we do that? And, what is the etiquette for doing so?

Yes, you read that right: there *is* etiquette for handling a crisis situation over text message.

First, it depends on who we are talking to. It is important to know your audience. I would not always disclose hefty and heavy details to my parents when in a crisis, but I would be more likely to discuss those details with a friend. Know how much you can say without alarming the other person, so much so that they cannot help you but not so little that they do not have a clue what is going on. Of course, this is under the premise that you are comfortable reaching out to the person to begin with.

It is also important to find out, ideally before a crisis occurs, who you can contact in the first place. About a year ago, with the guidance of my previous therapist, I sent out a group text message to several friends asking if they would be all right with my contacting them if I were in crisis. This allows them the option to say no, if they are not comfortable with that (for whatever reason that may be), or they know they are often too busy and would hate to miss the red flag.

After setting aside those I could contact in a crisis, my current therapist suggested the etiquette that inspired this article.

Back in March of 2017 I sent out an ill-advised text message to multiple people. I said something more or less like:

“Hey, if you could contact me back there is a high probability that you will save me rather than if you do not intervene, thanks, bye.”

Essentially, I put all the responsibility on them, which was irresponsible of me.

Refer back to the song lyric at the top of this post. It is not fair for me, or anyone else, to put all the responsibility of my own actions and choices on someone else. If you also struggle with this, repeat after me: I can take care of myself. I can trust myself. I can keep myself safe — and if I cannot, I can communicate this need to others so I can be in a safe place again. I am responsible for my actions. I control my actions.

I have been on the flip side of this scenario as well. A friend reached out to me and I was terrified. I can only imagine how much worse that could be for someone who has no experience in the realm of mental health conditions. They just wouldn’t know what to say.

Instead, my therapist worked with me to take it down a few notches. I could text my group of friends a message along the lines of:

“Hey peeps, this is going out to multiple people and I am having some trouble right now so if you could chat with me that’d be great. If not, I will call a hotline and do some coping strategies, thanks!”

In this scenario, if people are busy on the toilet or not around their phone (it does happen) they do not run the risk of freaking out when they see my message of help. They can be assured that someone else, if not myself, got extra support.

All in all, remember this: Text multiple people, not just one person. Have a backup plan if friends cannot respond. Use your adaptive coping strategies. Call a hotline. And remember: you do not need someone else to save you. You can save yourself.
Don’t forget: it takes a lot of bravery to open up to people. You are much stronger than you think, realize, or feel right now. It will get better and this crisis will pass. Go out there and radiate badassery.

If you or someone you know is in an immediate suicidal crisis off campus, call 911. Other resources include the Counseling Center, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, and Craig Bidiman, the Health Education and Wellness Promotion Specialist with University Health Services. His office is CC-3-3407.