World Suicide Prevention Day: Digital Engagement Offers New Intervention Channel

Posted by
Terra Walker Mrkulić
LivePerson Contributor
Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 13:58

More than 800,000 people take their own lives every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s one person every 40 seconds. This is a frightening number.

But here’s the good news, according to the WHO, “Suicides are preventable.”

There are risks and warning signs, but in a desperate moment, immediate intervention is critical. We are fortunate that today’s technologies make it possible to offer live support through digital engagement—a valuable addition to phone and in-person support.

Not everyone feels inclined to seek help via the phone. Some find comfort in the anonymity and familiarity of live chat. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, we’d like to call attention to those organizations providing much needed help to those in need, and changing lives through digital channels.


Making An Impact Through Chat


Recognizing that digital channels are a new means for reaching people in emotional distress, including those who are suicidal, a growing number of nonprofits are using digital engagement models such as live chat. Among those are LivePerson customers  SAHAR and Lifeline Australia.

Founded in 2002, SAHAR engages individuals suffering from depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts in both Hebrew and Arabic. What sets SAHAR apart is its network of volunteers who engage with clients through its community chat and live chat programs. SAHAR’s six employees recruit, train, and work with more than 100 volunteers. Using live chat on its website and Facebook page powered by LivePerson, SAHAR has grown the number of chats year-over-year by 20 percent, with an average of 1,000 live chats each month.

An organization with a similar mission, Lifeline Australia engages more than 700,000 people under emotional distress annually. People can connect with the 24-hour support line via phone, in person, and through live chat. The program is proving highly successful: for those who engage with Lifeline Australia, 95 percent indicate they feel better after exiting a chat with a counselor.

These are just two of many nonprofits that have turned to digital engagement as a tool for reaching and connecting with constituents—in this case to save lives. What are some of the reasons this is the case?


Why Live Chat When It Comes to Emotional Distress?


Comfortable, Familiar


For some individuals, seeking help through live chat is more comfortable and less intrusive. Those who feel embarrassed or scared can voice concerns without speaking, and without being seen.

For this reason, it’s often a good starting point to kick off conversation. According to Sajiid Hassan, CIO, Lifeline, “People in their teens and early 20s almost always respond that they would not have called us.” Once individuals are comfortable, Lifeline Australia moves them to a phone call if conversations become more serious.

Chat feels safer and less threatening in many cases. CEO at SAHAR, Adi Lahave, points to anonymity as another benefit. “The anonymity of our online engagement channels allows those who engage with us to express their emotions without inhibition,” Lahave says. Some might feel more inclined to open up about serious events, like rape or abuse, when they aren’t face-to-face or voice-to-voice.


Soothing, Therapeutic


Many studies find that expressing feelings through writing has therapeutic benefits. Time Magazine reported a link between the “calming effect” of writing and physical health. Another study from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates writing has emotional benefits.

While some prefer chat for emotional reasons, it also provides a heightened sense of security and privacy for others. Customers have total control when it comes to visibility and control in their LivePerson portal. With state-of-the-art US and EU based data centers, LivePerson is a proud holder of five security certifications. 


Moving to Mobile Support


With more mobile phones than people by the end of the year, the next step is clear. Emotional hotlines can’t ignore mobile as a channel for support. And live chat is now a 24/7 reality for those suffering emotional distress.

For Lifeline Australia, roughly 34 percent of all website visitors are from mobile devices. With that in mind, Lifeline Australia hopes to integrate LivePerson mobile Click-to-Chat solutions before 2015.

Others have already made the leap. Last year, SAHAR integrated mobile live chat, with 20 percent of chat assistance now on mobile.

These moves align with statistics: Experts predict that mobile app traffic will soon overtake traffic from PCs. It only makes sense that suicide hotlines and support organizations follow suit.

How does chatting create meaningful connections that enable individuals in distress to find the help they need?  Check out the Agent Connections Story and Video on Aria Smalling from United Way 211 of Greater Atlanta.

Do you know someone who might need help? Visit IASP page to find a crisis center near you.

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