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New helpline offers youth in Washington access to numerous services

New helpline offers youth in Washington access to numerous services

Young people across Washington have a new resource to help them navigate difficult situations. HearMeWa is a hotline for anyone in the state under the age of 25 to find help with “anything that makes life difficult.”

“Youth in crisis don’t just fall into crisis,” says Conner Mertens, a suicide prevention advocate who spearheaded the creation of the helpline. “There are many steps that go through before they get there, so we wanted to make sure we were curbing the problems that lead to crisis. This is more of a prevention tool than an intervention tool.”

Mertens has personal experience with such tools. As a teenager in Kennewick, Washington, he called the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for young LGBTQ people.

“I was in a crisis situation,” said Mertens. “When someone picked up the phone, I heard a voice. I hung up immediately and cried. I wasn’t ready to talk, I was afraid to use the services, but it was life-changing to know that there was someone and something there for me.”

Mertens became the first openly LGBTQIA+ college football player when he played for Willamette University in Oregon, but in the years that followed, his hometown saw a series of youth suicides.

“Those were kids from my old high school. That could have been me,” said Mertens.

So Mertens reached out to his local representative, then-Senator Sharon Brown, and began talking to her about creating a student mental health resource.

That years-long effort has become HearMeWa, launched this month by the Attorney General’s Office. HearMeWa connects young people with trained crisis counselors at the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center, who help callers find the specialized services they need.

Portrait photo of a smiling young white man with medium length brown hair and brown mustache wearing a light blue collar shirt.

Courtesy of Conner Mertens

Conner Mertens is a suicide prevention activist from Kennewick, Washington, who spearheaded the creation of the new youth helpline HearMeWa.

This makes the Helpline unique as it takes a more holistic approach than others that traditionally rely on emergency services or in-school responses.

Anyone under 25 or any concerned adult can file a report with HearMeWA by phone or text message. There is also an app that allows them to do this anonymously if they wish.

The helpline is just one piece of the puzzle that helps young people navigate the difficulties they face, especially given the level of gun violence students face. Research shows that firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. Mertens said connecting students to their community can help.

“Many of the problems we’ve talked about stem from loneliness. Whether it’s violence, suicide, self-harm, eating disorders or things like that, a lot of it stems from loneliness and lack of connection to things,” Mertens said.

Mertens said he was proud of the establishment of the helpline, especially because of the direct involvement of young people from across the state who helped establish the helpline through a youth advisory board.

“I wish we had had it earlier. I wish I had had it earlier. But in the future, many young people will benefit from it,” said Mertens. “We have a duty to do this in honor of those who did not make it today.”

Produced with the support of Public Media Journalists Association Editorial Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.