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22 Mar, Wednesday
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Montreal Families

New texting support service launched for kids in distress

Young Canadians now have a new resource to turn to when they need help. Kids Help Phone recently launched the Crisis Text Line, Canada’s first-ever texting service that provides youth with mental health support.

The service connects young people with trained volunteers, known as crisis responders, who provide them with empathetic listening and help them through their issues. The service is available in English and French and doesn’t require a data plan, Internet connection or app.

“We know that young people are most comfortable reaching out in non-verbal ways,” says Alisa Simon, Vice President of Social Innovation and Chief Youth Officer for Kids Help Phone. “They communicate with their thumbs instead of their voices.”

To access the service, users can send “TEXT” to 686868 (or “TEXTO” for French services) and they will immediately receive an automated text message that details the service and its policies before they are matched with a crisis responder. Text messages shouldn’t be longer than 160 words each but kids can send as many as they need. Conversations can be ended at any time by texting “STOP.”

Once the conversation starts, kids are welcome to talk about any issue. Crisis responders are trained to talk about bullying, self-harm, substance abuse, grief, stress and more.

Responders use a non-judgmental, harm-reducing approach. For example, if a user sends a text about dealing with substance abuse, the responder will have a supportive conversation about why he or she may be using, as well as offer information on how to use safely. They may also provide links to online resources.

“The point of the service is that the user feels that they are not alone,” says Simon.

The service is confidential but it’s not entirely anonymous: kids don’t need to disclose any personal information but professional counsellors monitor all text conversations and can intervene should they feel a child is in danger.

Kids Help Phone launched a pilot project in February 2018 and recorded up to 13,000 text conversations between young people and responders. The most common issues discussed were anxiety, relationships and feelings of isolation. According to Kids Help Phone, 87 per cent of participants said they felt better about their situations after using the service.

“Users said they felt less distressed and more confident about dealing with their problems,” says Simon, adding that users turn to texting responders as an alternative to doing nothing about their situations.

Since its launch in 1989, Kids Help Phone has been offering free resources to youth across the country. Their phone counselling and live-chat services are available 24/7. To chat with a professional counsellor, you can call 1-800-668-6868. The live-chat service can be accessed through the website or by downloading their mobile app, Always There.

The website also features a Resources Around Me page, which gives users the ability to locate services near them, including youth programs, food banks, shelters, employment centres, LGBTQ advocacy and more.

For more information, visit kidshelpphone.ca.

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