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A new text-based help line launched this week will be the first national service to allow young people to share their problems with a crisis responder via text message.

“Young people increasingly want to use the technology they carry around with them every single day, and they want to use that technology to reach out if they need support or help,” says Alisa Simon, chief youth officer at Kids Help Phone.

Research conducted by the organization found that 71 per cent of young people would prefer a non-verbal form of communication such as texting to discuss their problems.

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The new service, called Crisis Text Line and powered by Kids Help Phone, launched as a pilot in Manitoba in February, and has been rolled out in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and the Atlantic Provinces. More than 13,000 texting conversations have taken place since then.

“Right now we are averaging about 1,000 texts a week,” Simon says. “We know there’s tremendous demand for this kind of support.”

The service was available nationally as of Tuesday.

Anxiety and depression are the two most common issues youth have used the service to find help with, while 24 per cent have reached out for support for suicidal thoughts.

Youth who use the service, available in both English and French, immediately get a message back in their preferred language that explains the service is confidential and that they own their data so they can scrub it if they want. It then asks them what’s on their mind. At that point, they are connected to a trained crisis responder.

Using the service does not require a data plan, internet connection or app, which especially benefits youth in remote communities who have unreliable internet bandwidth.

“One of our big challenges that we were trying to address with this service was, how do we better meet the needs of young people who don’t have strong internet connections or reliable internet connections. How do we reach [young people] who don’t have the privacy to potentially talk on the phone,” Simon says.

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Allowing youth to find help with their problems by discussing them over texts has so many benefits that a service such as this is essential, says Bruce Rivers, executive director of Covenant House Toronto, a shelter for people 16- to 24-years-old that provides multiple services to homeless youth and youth in crisis.

“We’re most enthused and pleased to see them moving in this direction,” Rivers says.

“With our demographic we’re increasingly relying upon social media, texting in particular, to connect with youth,” he says. “It’s a media they are used to using.”

Texting allows young people to build trust with whoever they are speaking to and provides a level of discretion that phone conversations, which can be overheard, often do not, Rivers says.

As Kids Help Phone has found, many young people aren’t making a choice between texting and making a phone call to find help with their problems. Instead, 78 per cent of youth who have used the service said that if they couldn’t have texted, they wouldn’t have reached out.

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