MIL-OSI USA: AG Ferguson launches first-of-its-kind statewide youth helpline

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Source: Washington State News

HearMeWA makes it easier for Washington youth in crisis to find help they need, no matter where they live 

SEATTLE — Today, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced the launch of HearMeWA, a first-of-its-kind statewide reporting system exclusively focused on the safety and well-being of young people.

HearMeWA removes barriers to help young Washingtonians get the help they need to deal with their most pressing challenges: bullying, social pressures, suicidal thoughts, threats of violence, or anything that makes life hard. No problem is too small to report to HearMeWA, which was created with direct input from the young people it serves.     

HearMeWA makes it easy to connect youth to a wide range of existing support services, by offering a direct line to a national crisis center 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Reports can be made by phone, text, online or in the HearMeWA mobile apps available in the Apple or Google stores. Once a report is filed, highly trained crisis counselors triage them and connect the person with service providers who can help.   

Similar reporting systems elsewhere around the country rely solely on schools to respond. HearMeWA is the first-ever program to expand this type of service statewide, offering alternatives beyond schools or 911. That is especially critical in rural communities, where emergency services are often the first and only resource for youth in crisis. 

In short, HearMeWA helps young people find help when they are not sure where to turn, no matter where they live.

“Young Washingtonians are facing a mental health crisis unlike anything we have seen before,” Ferguson said. “HearMeWA removes roadblocks that previously kept young people from seeking help for their most urgent challenges. This will improve — and save — lives.”

Youth mental health is in crisis. Data show that eating disorders in adolescents more than doubled from 2018 to 2022. The rate of young people dealing with depression doubled from 2009 to 2019, to nearly 16%. According to Forbes, 57.7% of Washington youth with depression do not receive mental health services.

HearMeWA can help youth with a variety of challenges, such as:

  • Bullying;
  • Mental health struggles, such as depression or anxiety;
  • Suicidal thoughts;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Housing or food insecurity;
  • Gender identity;
  • Threats of violence or rumors of a school shooting;
  • Anything that makes life hard.

From the start, young Washingtonians from across the state have been directly involved in the creation and outreach for HearMeWA.

Members of the HearMeWA Youth Advisory Group meet quarterly to offer feedback on how to build trust and get the word out about the program. The Youth Advisory Group also consulted on branding for the program, including the name. Other youth have participated in surveys and focus groups to offer feedback on the program.

“For me, HearMeWA is essential for Washington’s youth because it lets them know that they are supported and people are there for them if they need help,” said Makena Crosser of Bainbridge Island, who serves as a member of the HearMeWA Youth Advisory Group. “When I was young there have been times when I’ve struggled with stress and anxiety and I know other young Washingtonians are also struggling with mental health or are experiencing violence. I believe HearMeWA will be able to help youth who need someone to turn to during their time of need.”

“Young people in rural communities often face unique mental health challenges,” said Noah Aquino, another Youth Advisory Group member who lives in Ocean Shores. “The geographic isolation and the close-knit nature of these communities, while supportive, can sometimes lead to feelings of shame or fear of judgment when struggling with emotional health issues. This can be exacerbated by a lack of anonymity, making it difficult for youth to seek help without fear of gossip or stigma.

“Since this program is set up as a safe space, removed from our schools and, for some of us, small rural towns, I believe youth will feel more comfortable to be forthcoming and get the help they need. It allows all youth, no matter where you are, to access counseling and other support when they, or someone they know, are struggling.”

How to file a report to HearMeWA

Anyone with information about risks or potential risks to the safety or well-being of youth can call the toll-free, statewide number at 888-537-1634 or make a report online by visiting HearMeWA.org and clicking the “send a tip” button. Youth can also text HearMeWA to 738477, or file a report on the app available in the app store on their mobile device.

Youth up to age 25 and any concerned adults can file a report with HearMeWA. Identifying information such as name, age or address are optional, meaning youth can file anonymously if they choose.

Unlike other crisis hotlines, HearMeWA allows anyone filing or responding to a report to track it and provide updates. That means help is not cut off once the first call or communication ends. Every individual who files a report is given a tip ID and password to review the report later, either online, on the app or by phone.

What happens when you file a report to HearMeWA

When youth or a concerned adult files a report to HearMeWA, it is immediately received by a highly trained crisis counselor with the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center. The counselor makes contact with the individual, talks through the details of the incident and triages it based on the level of urgency. The most urgent reports that threaten someone’s life or safety are routed to 911 or emergency responders. If a school is identified in an incident, such as an active shooter threat, the school is simultaneously notified.

Less urgent incidents are triaged to a wide range of other types of responders. Responders include:

  • Schools, where youth could be connected with counselors, social workers, nurses or other trusted adults in their community;
  • Regional crisis lines or 988, the national suicide prevention line;
  • Local law enforcement and emergency responders;
  • Child protective services;
  • Other community-based resources.

This range of responders makes HearMeWA the first of its kind in the country. Other similar programs solely rely on schools to respond.

HearMeWA can save lives. School-based programs like it in other states, such as Oregon and Colorado, have documented interventions that stopped suicide attempts and threats of violence, including threats involving firearms.

About the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center

HearMeWA triages all its reports through the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center. This crisis center runs similar programs in other states, and is the only crisis center dedicated solely to school-based, anonymous reporting.

The Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center already serves 3.5 million youth across the country. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“Every minute of every day, the crisis counselors in the National Crisis Center are here to connect young people to live-saving and life-changing resources whenever they’re in need, no matter what issues they’re facing,” said Crystal Garrant, chief program officer at Sandy Hook Promise. “All young Washingtonians have the right to physical and emotional safety. HearMeWA will provide a lifeline, ensuring that young people have a trusted adult to turn for help 24/7/365.”

Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit that operates the crisis center, educates and empowers youth and adults to prevent violence in schools, homes and communities. It is led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.

HearMeWA started with grassroots effort in Tri-Cities

HearMeWA started with grassroots planning at a kitchen table in the Tri-Cities. In 2016, after a string of youth suicides in his hometown of Kennewick, college student Conner Mertens connected with then-state Sen. Sharon Brown. Together, they researched the scope of mental health resources in Washington and looked to other states for examples of programs to address the gaps.

That led to years of community collaboration, including extensive planning by a state workgroup comprised of stakeholders from across Washington. Then, in 2021, the Legislature dedicated funds for the Attorney General’s Office to create a statewide reporting system for the safety and well-being of youth.

Between 2021 and 2023, the Youth Program Team at the Attorney General’s Office built the program from the ground up by contacting more than 1,300 youth-centered organizations and holding more than 500 meetings.

They spent several years building relationships with groups that work directly with young people to build a program that is youth-centered, equitable, trauma-informed and anti-racist. Their work included building out resources for responders, including the HearMeWA Best Practices Toolkit, which offers guidelines on how best to respond to youth who are at risk and in crisis.

All of Washington’s 39 counties were represented in the Youth Program Team’s outreach. It affirmed that communities, especially in rural areas, lack sufficient trusted resources for dealing with the broad range of challenges youth face. Often underserved communities do not have an alternative to calling 911 when they need help. Additionally, some youth say they know there are resources out there for them, but they are located somewhere other than where they live.

HearMeWA helps fill those gaps, and also addresses a range of issues that are not suitable for a 911 call, such as housing insecurity or bullying.

To file a report or learn more about HearMeWA, visit HearMeWA.org.

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Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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