There’s no denying: it’s been a tough year for everyone around the world. Here in the U.S., we’ve faced an unrelenting pandemic, mass movements for racial justice, raging wildfires, devastating hurricanes, and an election cycle that revealed that the nation is more divided than ever. And it’s taken its toll: anxiety and stress levels have risen, and well-being has suffered.
As we think about how to move forward in a way that promotes healing and recovery for every one of us—as individuals, as communities, and as a country—I have found it valuable to reflect on what we might learn from the work we’ve been supporting here at Hershey to help children thrive. Indeed, Hershey’s Heartwarming Project was created to help kids and teens thrive in this era of increased stress, anxiety, mental health challenges, and social isolation that young people have been facing in recent years. What we found was that by leaning into protective factors like fostering meaningful connections, promoting inclusion and teaching empathy, along with other social-emotional competencies, young peoples’ resilience and well-being improves over the long term. I’d venture to say we all could use more of that these days.
Our values of Making a Difference and Togetherness, and a focus on giving children a chance at a brighter future, are part of who we are and who we’ve always been. That’s also why in late 2019, Hershey partnered with Crisis Text Line, the leading 24/7 confidential text service that connects anyone who needs support with a trained Crisis Counselor who is ready to listen, with empathy via text. Crisis Text Line has responded to over 1.1 million texter conversations this year with top issues including: depression, anxiety, relationships and school. On October 27, they saw their highest number of texter conversations ever—over 22,000 conversations started in one day (up from an average of about 3,300 per day in the month prior). According to texter survey data from about 20 percent of conversations, between October 28 and November 3, 44 percent of texters were under 18 years old, based on Crisis Text Line’s estimates. While they couldn’t vote in this election, there was an increase in anxiety and self-harm compared to usual levels during this time period.
What’s especially interesting is how Crisis Text Line works. Yes, it’s powered by technology and data—to make it easy to communicate via text and connect you with support when you need it most. But perhaps even more powerful is the magic behind the platform: human empathy. Crisis Text Line trains its thousands of volunteer Crisis Counselors to become empathy superstars – teaching them to listen actively, communicate with care, and show every texter, no matter what they’re going through, kindness and concern.
We’re excited to partner with the team at Crisis Text Line to share resources on how all of us, young and old, can move forward with empathy in the weeks and months ahead. I invite you to check out their great blog post and helpful tip sheet that breaks down how empathy begins with yourself and extends outward to your community, both in persona and online. I also encourage you to find safe and meaningful ways to foster authentic connections with co-workers, friends, family and neighbors in the weeks to come. And even companies and workplaces can show empathy by leading with care and concern to support employees’ varied experiences during these times – this has made all the difference here at Hershey this year.
While we may not know what lies ahead, one thing is certain: we could all use more empathy and connection as we move forward together.