National Science Foundation (NSF), 2128863
10/1/21 – 2/28/23
Elizabeth Murnane, PhD (Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College)
Other Project Staff
External collaborators: Dr. Matthew Mauriello (University of Delaware), Dr. Kaiping Chen (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dr. David Sirkin (Stanford University), Dr. Rebecca Currano (Stanford University)
This project aims to create assessment and informatics tools that empower crisis line counselors to self-monitor, develop skills, and better manage both their personal wellbeing and counseling performance, in response to recent shifts in future crisis line work, workers, and technology. Specifically, while crisis line organizations (CLOs) traditionally managed physical call centers with training programs for workers, many new services allow crisis line workers (CLWs) to train online, field communications from home, and more flexibly self-define schedules. Further, campus counseling centers are moving away from on-call staffing to outsourcing crisis line support to vendors that provide around-the-clock services and interaction reports that counselors follow up on as needed. In addition, while originally limited to telephone calls, crisis services are increasingly being delivered through modern information communication technologies, including text messaging and web applications. Finally, “smarter” features are increasingly being utilized within such platforms to automate responses or help triage communication. Our research will investigate how such changes are impacting the practices of crisis line work as well as the skills expected of workers due to emerging technologies augmenting or replacing various aspects of CLWs’ efforts, in order to inform the design of acceptable and effective self-care tools for CLWs.
Public Health Relevance
Counseling hotlines are a critical part of the healthcare system, providing immediate mental health support through telephone or text messaging. Such services have proven effective at decreasing hopelessness, psychological pain, and suicidality. Research finds 18–24 year olds and college students disproportionately experience these psychological issues, contributing to a recognized escalation in mental health problems on campuses nationwide. At the same time, the nature of the work puts counselors themselves at high risk of burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. In turn, such distress negatively impacts counselors’ job performance, creating a cycle of distress and vulnerability for both counselors and the clients who depend on them. Our scope is campus and campus-adjacent crisis line organizations who manage the underserved mental health needs of college populations. Moving forward insights from this project could improve worker welfare, job performance, and client welfare for broader contexts involving high-stress, high-stakes work that employs information communication technology to serve clients in need of support.