Jack O’Brien speaks with Dr. Shairi Turner, chief health officer of the Crisis Text Line about her organization’s suicide prevention efforts and work to promote mental health awareness. 

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From HLTH 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the MM+M Podcast.

It’s the m Eminem podcast. I’m Jack O’Brien, the Digital Editor at MM+M. This is the mmm podcast from health and lovely Las Vegas. I’m joined today by Dr. Shaw, Erie Turner of the crisis tax line. How are you doing, Dr. Turner?

Fine? Thank you Jack.

I really appreciate you being on the show. I obviously want to get into a lot of the conversation and work that we’ve seen done around mental health and certainly suicide awareness. But talk to us a little bit about your organization for maybe some of our listeners that may not be as familiar with crisis next line.

Yes, and I first want to say happy world mental health days exactly the best day to be having this conversation. So I am doctor Shayari Turner. I’m the chief Health officer at crisis text line. We are a National not-for-profit Organization that offers free 24/7 mental health support and Crisis Intervention solely by text. So SMS

web chat and WhatsApp in English and in Spanish

We’re like a mental health emergency room. So we consider any Crisis crisis to use a crisis to us.

And if you can kind of talk about maybe what the organization has done the past few years, obviously, they spent a lot of conversation around leaders that I’ve spoken with about. We need these stigmatized mental health really prioritize preventative care and proactive care, but sometimes it gets to an acute moment where there is Crisis and there has to be a quick

intervention. Right? So crisis text line is actually sort of spans the Spectrum we are able to handle minor crises which we consider preventive. So if someone texts in about their homework, right so many of our textures 70% of our textures are under the age of 24 so teens texting and about homework. It’s not deemed a major crisis, but if we’re able to help them deescalate that in the moment, then it’s less likely to build up and become something much more serious that said our volunteers are able to handle anything up to and including someone who’s at risk for suicide. We’ve been

Handling conversations now for the past 10 years our volunteers, we’ve trained over 65,000 volunteers and they are on our platform every day overseen by mental health professionals. And how is that mission and operations change over

the past 10 years because like I said, I think that the conversation at least from my purview as somebody that used to be outside the industry and now is inside covering it has changed in terms of like oh, well, that’s kind of taboo. I can’t really touch it to no we have to be very open and you know vulnerable to a certain extent about our mental health.

Yes. So the conversation has changed quite a bit fortunately. I think the the pandemic was a true accelerant. So we we are in a youth Mental Health crisis now, we were in a youth Mental Health crisis before the pandemic, but now people are willing to talk about the conversation willing to talk about stigma looking for ways to Resource and I mean just being here at this incredible conf.

Hence, the conversations that are being had about supporting people and their mental health is not something that we would have seen two to three, you know years ago.

And so where does crisis text line fit into

I’ve had a number of conversations. I was speaking with the folks from headspace the other day about the fact that ultimately there is still a provider shortage on the mental health side. And I imagine something like Crisis text line is able to fill that Gap where otherwise there would be a lack of care. Even if it’s an acute crisis or something, even you know, kids struggling with their homework,

right? So access to care is a huge issue crisis tax line provides that in the moment support and we reach populations that are not always getting access to mental health services. So over 50% of our textures our lgbtq+ many of our textures are bypak. So we are in communities that are lacking resources for mental health services.

And what do you think is probably the most misunderstood angle of the Mental Health crisis you talk about the fact that obviously different communities are affected in different ways. And I think that maybe some people are like, oh, well, you’re sad you’re sad and it’s like no there are so many more complex issues that go into Play

It’s So nuanced so the experience of an indigenous person in this country and their reasons for stigma and suicide are very different than an African American youth in this country is very different than in Asian person. And then when you look at intersectionality in terms of gender, so, you know, you really cannot it’s not a cookie cutter.

Solution it’s really about providing access but also digging deeper. So we understand what’s going on in the lives of our youth in particular so that we can be really intentional and specific about how to support them. And is there a value to the text aspect of it too? Because I know that

like obviously 988 has been rolled out and there’s you know, it’s it’s shorter than the previous number you can call in but I can imagine you know, I’m not gen Z, but I’m I’m cuspy from Millennial. It is a lot easier attacks. I don’t really want to hop on the phone and especially in a moment of Crisis. I could say I get text and get that same message across.

Yes. So crisis text line is the largest national backup for 988. So we support 980 but to be able to text is private. It’s accessible in the moment for Gen Z, you know, they’re digital natives. So we know that 70% of our texts are like I said are under the age of 24 and you don’t have to necessarily hear someone’s voice right? You can really take it at your own.

Place anywhere from the the boardroom to the classroom. Nobody has to know that you’re in crisis because everybody’s texting.

Yeah. No I can imagine there’s an inherent value there. I understand that you spoke on a panel while at Health can you talk to us about the panels topic and also the points that you were able to bring up there? Yeah.

So it was the line of defense against suicide. So we had a moment there where we we all you know, we had some great panelists together from different organizations, but just acknowledging the youth Mental Health crisis acknowledging the gaps, right the gaps that exist. So there’s gaps in screening. So we talked about the need to screen children for mental health issues. Like we screen them for physical health issues. So at the you know, the start of the school year access to care was an issue, you know, not everyone has access to a provider a provider who looks like them a provider who’s culturally competent a provider who speaks their native.

Edge stigma, right so stigma is huge and different communities and it’s a barrier we talked about training. So how do you train are we are our Workforce? We know that we don’t have enough mental health professionals are but also are we training our teachers are we training our pediatricians like anyone who’s a first responder to youth is that line of defense against suicide crisis Continuum? So like Crisis text line, it’s everything from prevention through, you know, the acute suicidal crisis, but we have to have the right service at the right time for the right individual in the right diagnosis.

And lastly legislation. So, you know 988 came from legis Federal legislation. And when we focus our laws around the support of people who who are clearly in need of Mental Health Services, then as we’ve seen with 988 funding follows and the conversation develops and the resources start to be allocated in a way that are that’s appropriate

a lot of topics that we’re coming around that panel. I want to bring up one that is particularly of interest to our audience being medical marketers is the communications and messaging side. I mean, it seems like every month and certainly around, you know, Mental Health Awareness Day Mental Health Awareness Month in May there are campaigns that are rolled out PSAs basically encouraging people to again be more vulnerable and expressive and feel those emotions rather than suppressing them do some sort of stigmatization from your perspective obviously being such a key stakeholder in this discussion. Where do you think the communication has gone? Is it is it good in your estimation? Is there still room for improvement? Just kind of curious


Room for improvement, but we’re now we’re seeing Elite athletes. We’re seeing celebrities talk about their mental health and that’s opening up a conversation. And when you open up a conversation, you give people the words to express what they’re feeling and you also create that opportunity for connection. So if we can have a conversation about an athlete who’s struggling with their mental health, we can also, you know find that common space where we can speak about our own mental health.

The one that comes to mind is to interject for a second is obviously like Michael Phelps a few years ago or Simone biles too

Olympics. Absolutely. Those are key moments because so many especially our youth right they idolize it look up to these athletes. Sometimes they think you know, what could go wrong in the life of an Olympic Athlete. Well, in fact, there’s a lot a lot of stress, right? So to be able to have those conversations and see someone that you admire and look up to speaking about mental health goes a long way.

Is there any sort of advice that you would pass along?

To Medical marketers or communicators on that front because I still see a lot of you know people talking and saying like pushing vulnerability talking about emphasizing mental health awareness, but there still has to be I imagine some sort of action or initiative that follows that too. It can’t just be words,

right? So it’s it’s really about partnership. So where media companies can partner with a crisis text line with 988 where we continue the messaging or we dig deeper and really encourage those conversations where we for example a crisis sex line. We have our training on always ask right and what that says is, you know anyone in a clear and kind way can ask a friend or a family member whether they’re having thoughts of death or dying right and you’re not going to cause someone to try to take their life, but in fact you’re going to make them feel seen and heard and connected with so the more marketing companies

Can Elevate those types of themes the more that we’re able to create those connections between individuals?

Yeah, absolutely. I know that we focused a lot about your organization. Certainly the panel having just walked around here and spent the past couple days at Health what have been your takeaways or you know any sort of conversations or observations that you’ve had.

It’s been wow, I opening because there’s so many people that really just seeing the way people are innovating to meet the needs of fill in the blank but Health mental health particularly and just how creative people are are trying to be to.

Bridge the access issue Bridge the marketing issues. Just trying to get to youth in all sorts of ways that I had, you know never seen before and it was such a large space but with everybody committed to improving Health in some way. It’s it’s really an amazing conference and

it’s so interesting to see when you talk about access to that it involves, you know one the access of the clinical side, but then there’s the cost element then there’s all these other sorts of factors that go into it when it goes to mental health because then there is that stigma where people are like even if I have all those checked off am I gonna be judged am I gonna be othered in some sort of way to be ostracizing?

So that’s a key Point here so much telemental health so much tell a Health Options that I I saw as I walked around because you know through those modalities your your improving access your giving people the Privacy, so if they wouldn’t otherwise drive to a therapist to be

Able to be in the comfort of their own home and have access to a therapist is huge and everyone’s trying to address that in in some way with what their company is doing

and so interesting to see that kind of be the stickiness that we’ve seen from the covid pandemic. I remember people saying like they’re gonna go back to the doctor’s office. They’ll go back for X Y and Z as part of care but mental health seems to be the one that will always be there in terms of tell how I can tell you when I speak with my therapist and I’m out of town or something. It’s very easy to just hop on zoom and she’s right there.

Yes. Yes. It’s you know, the pandemic. Like I said was an accelerant to us really being forced to innovate to support individuals in need so that they could access their therapists.

Well, Dr. Turner, I’ve really enjoyed you being on the show here certainly really appreciate the work that you and your organization have done to take a very hard left turn in terms of the interview. I’ve asked other Executives, you know, other than the health conference what they enjoy about coming to Vegas some people it’s going shopping.

Some people it’s the shows what stands out to you when you come to town.

I love this shows today is actually my birthday. So we’re going to

happen. Well, happy birthday.

Thank you. We’re going my husband and I are going to go to the sphere. Oh the first time so we’re really excited. But I did want to add just one thing that I didn’t say in the beginning.

Crisis sex line is available to anyone. They can text help. So 741-741 and

a counselor will be available. Excellent. Well again, really appreciate you come on the show. We’ll be sure include that and a link to your website when this goes to post, but thank you again.