Caltrain partners with Crisis Text Line to prevent suicides

Caltrain is the first rail service to partner with a national nonprofit that assists people who are having suicidal thoughts through text messages.

The train service has seen dozens of intentional deaths on its right-of-way throughout the years, including 17 of the 20 track fatalities in 2015 being ruled as suicides, Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said.

“We realize that there is a problem. Most times they are intentional acts and not accidents,” she said.

Caltrain is one of many Bay Area groups announced today as a partner with Crisis Text Line, a national nonprofit that guides people in crisis 24/7 over text messages, with more than 25,000 conversations in the Bay Area since its 2013 launch.

The texting service supplements an 800 number displayed for riders if they’re feeling depressed, having suicidal thoughts or have a mental disorder, Bartholomew said.

While the agency can’t stop all deaths on its tracks, it has worked to help the public through its suicide prevention initiatives, she said.

Beginning Monday, Caltrain commuters can expect to see more signs on platforms and trains displaying the nonprofit’s text message service, Bartholomew said.

Crisis Text Line’s Bay Area Director Libby Craig was excited about the Caltrain partnership that’s personal for her as a Palo Alto native who graduated from Gunn High School in 2009, when four of her students committed suicide on the agency’s tracks.

Text messages have become the primary mode of communication for teenagers and the nonprofit’s service is an alternative way for people to cope in a more confidential setting compared to a phone call, Craig said.

About 75 percent of people who text are under 25 years old in the Bay Area and nationwide, according to Craig.

People using the service first receive an automated message that asks, “What’s on your mind?” and their answers are run through an algorithm that sorts through the responders’ words and phrases, Craig said.

High-risk senders will be paired with a crisis counselor in less than 2 minutes. The nonprofit aims to pair someone with a counselor in under 5 minutes, according to Craig.

“We collaboratively problem solve with the texter and really empower them,” Craig said.

“These texters know how to help themselves the best. We’re just guiding them there,” Craig said.

Working with Caltrain, the nonprofit’s first rail service partner, will help increase suicide prevention awareness for thousands of travelers everyday, according to Craig.

The nonprofit has also joined forces with the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department to utilize the nonprofit’s text message service while responding to calls, Craig said.

Other partners include the City of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

Anyone seeking help in a crisis can contact Crisis Text Line by texting “BAY” to 741741. Those interested in becoming a crisis counselor can visit http://www.crisistextline.org/volunteer.