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24 Mar 2011 / Julie

finally, an option for online chat help when you are in crisis

I run a statewide 24/7 chat service provided by the libraries of Maryland for the students and residents of Maryland. While we mostly receive questions about renewing library books, doing research, or learning about new things, we have occasionally gotten chats from customers who were in crisis.

To better arm our librarians to handle these sensitive situations, we created training, guidelines and a resource list with the help of one of our librarians who’s also a social worker.

While we were creating our resource list, it became very apparent that telephone hotlines were still the norm and even in this new world where people appreciate the anonymity and immediacy of conversations via some online text-based system, none was available. We were very aware of the mismatch of suggesting a telephone hotline to someone who had come to us in chat to help them.

I am very happy to say that there is now a viable chat option for those in crisis:


You are panicked, short of breath, and the pain is so palpable that you cannot feel or think about anything else. The terror of picking up the phone to call a hotline not knowing who will answer prevents you from doing so. Or, even if you have the courage to pick up the phone, the sound of the person’s voice scares you and you hang up. We know this happens because over 30% of all people who call suicide hotlines do just that—they hang up as soon as they hear the human voice.

More importantly, we recognize the technological age we find ourselves in today and we know that millions of people in crisis will never pick up the phone. We believe that IMAlive is part of the solution to the problem. IMAlive is a live online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis. People need a safe place to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We’ll be updating our resources page and spreading the word. I hope you do the same. Everyone needs a place to go.

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