From Idea to Impact: How ThroughLine is Bridging the Gap in Global Crisis Support

  • From Idea to Impact: How ThroughLine  is Bridging the Gap in Global Crisis Support image
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April 2024

On every LifeLine International website, there is a tool that directly connects you with free mental health and crisis support services in 130 countries. It’s the world’s largest verified network of crisis hotlines and helplines and is provided by New Zealand start-up ThroughLine. Their work offers some inspiring perspectives, and this ingenious and vital service was the idea of New Zealand-based tech entrepreneur Elliot Taylor, whose path from youth work to leadership at a nationwide youth nonprofit led him to uncover a crucial gap in global crisis support.

Elliot generously shared some time with LifeLine International recently to let us learn more about their contribution to crisis support, his motivation, and how his team keeps this vital service up to date, while operating at an amazing scale. We explore how he went from identifying the need to bringing a fully functioning tech platform and business to being in just a few years – and also – what’s next!  

LLI: Thank you Elliot Taylor for your time! ThroughLine has recently emerged as a network and now has a unique view of people in crisis. Can you start by telling us about your mission and how ThroughLine works?

ET: Our mission is simple: to ease every emotional crisis. We do this by partnering with helplines worldwide and making it incredibly easy for people to find and access the help they need. We create simple online tools that can be used on social media platforms, search engines, video games, within AI chatbots – or websites like LifeLine International! We want to be anywhere someone in crisis might be looking for support.

With over 1,300 services in 130 countries, we see first-hand the global impact of mental health challenges. This helps us better understand the needs of people in crisis and how we can improve support systems worldwide.

LLI: That’s an impressive achievement in 2 years. What inspired you to create ThroughLine? 

ET: Several years ago, I found myself in the emergency department with a young person who had attempted suicide. As her boyfriend and I watched the doctors working to save her life, he showed me what he found on her phone: a suicide note she had posted on social media. It struck me that, in her crisis moment, she reached out anonymously on an online platform rather than seeking help from someone close to her. I realised you need to be where people are looking for help – so I thought about taking that approach but applying it to the online world. I started asking the question, what could meaningful work look like to help her, and people like her? 

LLI:  You’ve implemented technology in a fascinating way to create a connectivity solution that supports people in crisis and enhances the value of crisis lines – an essential service that previously didn’t exist. What challenges have you faced?

ET: Scaling our support network is one of our biggest challenges. While we list services in over 130 countries, there are about 90 countries without an active crisis line, which means we can’t yet serve those populations We’re always working on extending our helpline network to more countries and addressing as many mental health needs of those populations as possible.

Building partnerships with companies and organisations is also vital for our mission – they have the audience and we have the solution to the problem. Understanding the nuance of each partner’s needs has been really important. Our product powers crisis support experiences on platforms like Google, YouTube, Grammarly and Pi – with more announced soon! – and each integration is unique. We work hard to ensure that our solution is a hand-in-glove fit for each partner’s needs.

We’re constantly exploring new product experiences and new ways to support people in an emotional crisis. We’ve experimented with a lot of different approaches. Some things worked, others failed, but we are always learning!

LLI: How do you think about the role of human connection when building digital experiences for people experiencing distress?

ET: From the outset, our focus has been on leveraging technology to create experiences that streamline access to support. We are great believers in the power of human and conversational support, so we’ve concentrated initially on accelerating access to that support.

LLI: ThroughLine is global. How do you think about providing support across such diverse needs and demographics?

ET: I’m keenly aware that the people we aim to support are, in some ways, just like the young person I was with at the hospital. Their lives are just as important, valuable, and unique as hers.

I hold these two contrasting ideas in balance: on the one hand, the world is vast, with diverse experiences, cultures and beliefs. On the other, all people share equal value, all people struggle, and all people deserve meaningful support.  

Being a network, we rely on our helpline partners to know their specific culture and context. We also have an Inclusive Care Policy, which all partners agree to, which outlines the ethical standards we expect our helpline partners to maintain.

LLI: And this tech platform also appeals to your sense of equity? 

ET: Absolutely. I studied international development at university and, despite being based in New Zealand, have always held a fairly global outlook.  ThroughLine takes a global-first view about how we can scale crisis support services to people wherever they are in the world. To us, equity is about working just as hard for the person in crisis on the other side of the world as we do for those in our own country.

LLI: With over 1,300 services in your network, it must take a lot of work to keep the information accurate. How does your team maintain your helpline information?

ET: Data integrity is a really important part of our work. Imagine the frustration of someone in crisis facing a broken link or dial tone? The internet is full of global helpline lists but you can’t really trust them – in our experience, about twenty to fifty percent of the data is inaccurate.

The first part of solving this is getting your information straight from the source. That’s why we work with helplines directly to confirm their information. Once verified, helplines are contacted every six to nine months to re-verify that the information is up-to-date and accurate. Secondly, we regularly check websites, phone and SMS numbers to ensure they are valid and operational.

The third tier is audits and maintenance – we audit countries, topics and data points and perform daily maintenance on the dataset resulting from our communication with helplines.  It’s a lot of work, but so important because it ensures people in crisis can actually access support – not a broken link or dial tone.

LLI: So the tech is actually never finished? 

ET: I prefer to think of it as continually evolving. It takes continual work to maintain the accuracy of helpline information and provide a user experience that is clear and user-friendly. When we started, everything was built and maintained on spreadsheets. Now we have advanced systems that enable us to work more efficiently. The process may have changed, but our goal has remained the same.

LLI: Entrepreneurs are usually rather restless – what’s next on the agenda? 

ET: When embarking on something new, you have to focus on a specific problem, because it’s only in solving it that you earn the right to work on the next one, and then the next one.  

Our initial focus was on providing reliable information and a seamless user experience. Now we’ve earned the right to solve the next problem – addressing the psychological roadblocks that stop people from accessing support.

Our data shows that many people consider seeking support, but are unsure about taking that step. Psychological barriers like not knowing what to expect, fears about police involvement, or the belief that ‘someone else needs it more’ stop people from reaching out when in crisis. So, now we’re asking, what else can we do to support a person to take that first step?

LLI: When you were briefed on our campaign Decriminalise Suicide Worldwide, you were so immediately helpful – what touched you so deeply about the campaign

ET: Alongside small population sizes and development challenges, the legal status of suicide plays a critical role in whether a helpline can operate. It’s fantastic that LifeLine International is leading an effort to address this and we appreciate the thoughtful and purposeful approach you’re taking. It was an easy decision to support this campaign and contribute to the movement. We look forward to the day when this work results in more helpline services that are a part of our network!

LLI: Thank you so much for your time, for your leadership and the support of your team for our mission and our campaign. And for the lives you’ve helped save. We need more people like you and your team in the world, Elliot!

ET: LifeLine International is proud to partner with ThroughLine in our shared quest to make sure anyone in distress, wherever they are in the world, can access quality crisis support services – especially suicide prevention services.

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