Wednesdays are for anxiety. Suicidal thoughts peak on Sundays. Can a new trove of data help us find better ways to well-being?
Select a condition from the menu box above to see the hourly breakdown of texts to Crisis Text Line for that issue
Every week for four hours, Darren Mastropaolo logs into a special web browser and begins reading the desperate pleas of strangers. They roll in by the dozens, sometimes faster than he can respond:
"I'm so nervous it's making me nauseous," one message might say. Or "help something happened last night. I kept saying stop I don't like this."
Mastropaolo is a volunteer with Crisis Text Line, a New York-based nonprofit that offers crisis counseling by text message, mostly to teens. Its volunteers are rigorously trained, undergoing 40 hours of education and role-playing exercises before starting work. But unlike with traditional crisis-center phone banking, the text-based platform allows the volunteers to both receive training and to work from the comfort of their home computers.
The text interface might also be preferable for teens, Mastropaolo says. "Think about being in school and being able to text privately on the bus or from the bathroom stall without anyone hearing what you're going through."
Crisis Text Line has helped 70,000 people since it launched a year ago. Mastropaolo usually interacts with several texters at once, but he'll stay with each conversation for as long as the texter wants or needs.
One of the most powerful recent interactions Mastropaolo remembers was when a girl texted saying she had been battling self-harm for over a year and was feeling tempted to cut herself again. He referred her to a website called the Butterfly Project. It encourages people considering self-mutilation to instead draw a butterfly over the part of the body they would have cut, and to name the drawing after a person.
"While we were texting, she drew her butterfly and she asked me what she should name it. And I said it should be for someone who really cares about you," Mastropaolo said. "She asked if she could name her butterfly Darren. It was like ... waterworks."
An unusual byproduct of the instant-message medium is that these crises leave behind trails of data. The interactive charts here, created by Crisis Text Line'sBob Filbin, allow anyone to see the temporal trends behind the different kinds of dilemmas.
In the chart above, for example, anxiety seems most prevalent in the mornings and at lunchtime, while depression strikes most at around 7 or 8 p.m. Bullying starts as soon as students arrive at school, at around 9 a.m. Sexual abuse complaints spike in the pre-dawn hours.
Peoples' woes seem to vary by day of the week, too. Wednesdays are for anxiety, while suicidal thoughts peak on Sundays. Family issues, perhaps unsurprisingly, also seem to be a weekend problem, but friend issues get better as the week wears on.
Geographically, New England seems to be the hub of anxiety, while depression is more evenly distributed throughout the country. Sexual abuse is most common in Mississippi, Iowa, and Montana.
The trend data isn't just for voyeuristic purposes. Crisis Text Line's founder hopes it will eventually help us better understand how the vicissitudes of our days affects the nature of our well-being.
"Imagine having real time data on every one of those issues," the founder, Nancy Lublin, said in a TED talk. "You could inform legislation. You could inform school policy. You could say to a principal, 'You're having a problem every Thursday at three o'clock. What's going on in your school?'"