CMHA launches text/chat service. (iStock photo)

CMHA adds texting to crisis line

The text/chat service will be available on Friday, May 17

Even after providing over a quarter million minutes of support last year, the Interior Crisis Line knows it needs to do more to make life-saving and life-changing support accessible in the Interior.

To answer the growing need, the ICLN is launching a test pilot for a chat and text service on Friday, May 17. The service will then be available for use every Thursday through Sunday from 5 – 9 p.m.

“The world is changing and the way people are asking to reach out for support is changing too,” said Alyssa Christmas, Manager of Mental Health Promotion and Education, with CMHA Vernon Branch, one of the partner agencies within the Interior Crisis Line Network.

“Chat and text can be a powerful way to make crisis line services more accessible and responsive to the communities we serve.”

The ICLN in a network of five community agencies in Cranbrook, Kelowna, Trail, Vernon and Williams Lake. They work collaboratively to meet provincial standards and provide community-delivered short-term emotional support, skilled assessment, crisis de-escalation and intervention to people across the region 24/7/365.

Since the collaborative service launched in 2012, the number of crisis line calls answered has more than doubled from 9,000 to around 20,000 every year. This has prompted the service to consistently recruit volunteers who are then trained as crisis line workers as well as looking into ways to address the changing needs of those 20,000 people.

Julia Payson, Executive Director of the Vernon CMHA and district, said the chat/text pilot is a necessary next step.

“Our commitment to our community requires us to make crisis line support more accessible. Each year there are heart-breaking stories of why this is important [but] there are inspiring ones as well,” she said. “We know that speaking to a crisis line worker can be the difference in connecting to critical services and finding hope again. By offering chat/text, we’re making this even more accessible.”

Like the crisis line itself, the service is primarily delivered by volunteers, so additional training is being provided. CMHA is also hosting a volunteer recruitment drive to encourage others who desire to make a difference to come forward.

“We are so fortunate to have amazing volunteers and staff committed to the crisis line service and willing to step forward in providing chat/text,” said Paula Guidi, Program Coordinator with Vernon CMHA. “We’re hoping it will inspire people to reach out for support who perhaps haven’t in the past as well as inspiring others to come forward as volunteers.”

The chat and text service will be available Friday, May 17 for people in the Vernon area and across the Interior Region. They can access it via the ICLN website, Depending on the number of people reaching out at a given time, there may be waits.

People interested in volunteering are encouraged to call 250-542-3114, ext 232, to learn about the screening and training process.

The text test pilot will be evaluated with the intention of expanding the service through the other Interior Crisis Line Network partners. The chat/text pilot will not change the crisis line phone-based service and people will still be able to access support 24/7/365 through 1-888-353-CARE.

“This has been a personal commitment for me from the moment I joined the service” said Christmas, “It’s wonderful to see it coming to fruition and I am looking forward to the service continuing to evolve.”

The CMHA Vernon Branch serves people in the greater Vernon community and is a contributing partner in the Interior Crisis Line Network. The Interior Crisis Line Network is funded through the Interior Health Authority.

Related: Dealing with suicidal thoughts? Vernon professionals weigh in

Related: Vernon crisis line seeks volunteers for busy holiday season

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