“Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson had already been candid about his mental health struggles when he posted about his suicidal thoughts on Instagram last December, sparking a nationwide conversation about how to seek help and support others. Many people, including Olympian Michael Phelps, have been speaking openly about how text therapy specifically helped “save” their lives. Whether on social media or through private therapy apps, these celebrities have been raising awareness about mental health stigmas and the need for accessible coping strategies. In 2019, your phone holds endless possibilities. Just start typing.
Text therapy is becoming a popular way to communicate with therapists, making therapy more accessible.
What exactly is text therapy? Dr. Victor Schwartz of the JED Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to mental health for young adults, defines it as “a therapeutic conversation,” or a type of therapy “that takes place on the platform of texting instead of speaking face to face.”
Robyn Kanner, Akilah Hughes and Timothy Goodman are all friends and writers who decided to publish their experiences with texting therapy. The result is “Friends With Secrets,” a website that offers the curious a peek into the world of text therapy.
“We wanted to let people know that therapy is accessible. Text therapy is much cheaper than real-life therapy, of course, which is a huge reason why a lot of people don’t go to therapists,” explains Goodman. “We were all going through these things, so it was like, ‘What would happen if we documented this and let people into our world, and let people consider therapy in their lives?’”
Schwartz points out that young people are often more comfortable communicating through text and social media, so why not use their language? He warns that although text therapy enhances accessibility to care, it might not replace face-to-face therapy in all cases. Text therapy is most commonly used for “cognitive behavioral therapy and crisis therapy,” which includes different types of suicide hotlines.
Talkspace, one of the leading brands in online talk therapy, uses celebrities to promote its platform. Its current spokesman, Michael Phelps, may have 28 Olympic medals, but that hasn’t stopped him from having to deal with depression. He’s been open about his need for therapy, telling CNN’s David Axelrod that in his darkest days, “I straight wanted to die.”
Phelps isn’t the only celebrity raising awareness about mental health. Many celebrities, like Pete Davidson and hip-hop star Kanye West, have used Twitter and Instagram to discuss their mental health struggles.
“There are times I’ve seen something like Pete Davidson go through a thing, and I’ve been like, ‘Man, that was a rough thing to see on Instagram, but that was real,’” Kanner observed. Jamila Sykes of Crisis Text Line, a free 24/7 support line, also sees the potential benefits of stars getting real about their mental health struggles.
“When celebrities open up about mental health, it actually motivates a lot of people to say, ‘You know, what can I do to help?’ And I think that’s critically important. What we do at Crisis Text Line is we train volunteers to be crisis counselors, and so when people are really galvanized to do something, to support mental health and the advancement of the mental health agenda, we offer them the opportunity,” says Sykes.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.