The suicide rate of young Australians is at a 10-year high. Crisis support services are failing to keep up with demand, and the constant change in ways Australians are interacting with information and services.
Lifeline finds itself in the same boat as many other support services, with a service model based primarily on phone-based support. With the widespread use of smartphones and advantages with privacy and access, there’s a case for optimising and scaling crisis support services to make use of mobility and digital smarts.
Help seekers are highly vulnerable people who have wide-reaching lived experience that include grief, financial hardship, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse. As a first step to working in-situ with help seekers, we received ethics approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) to conduct our work in a safe and ethical way.
Through participatory design methods, we simulated crises in a safe and controlled way to prototype a range of conversation flows via text messaging, as a means to ideate, test and learn. Through this research, we developed new service opportunities and identified where attention was required. Some critical challenges at play included the need to facilitate trust on the support seeker side, and the opportunity for crisis supporters to leverage technology to be able to read emotion in text-based messages.
Speculative design concepts were developed to explore the role of emerging technology (like AI and chatbots) specifically around mediating and triaging text-based crisis inquiries.
The big opportunity for Lifeline lies in the (ethical) use of big data to better understand the needs of people accessing crisis support services, and learn from it —ultimately allowing their people to make more informed, life-saving decisions.
Lifeline will take a text-based crisis support service to market in 2018; offering safer, more discreet access for people during times of crisis.