Helpline launches online chat service

When anxiety and depression take over to the point that someone can’t stop crying, helplines don’t always work, said third-year psychology student Kyra Wilson. She said there are moments when she doesn’t want to talk to anyone because she doesn’t want them to hear her crying.

“Sometimes, when you’re in a very, very dark place, it’s really hard to get the motivation to call someone,” Wilson said. “I think I would vastly like to type more than call.”

Chimo, a Fredericton-based helpline, launched an online chat service on Feb. 25 as part of a year-long pilot project. The chat is open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. every day – when the helplines are busiest – so users can chat with Chimo’s 14 staff and 15 volunteers.

Wilson said the chat line isn’t as intimidating as a helpline because it’s less personal. The person on the other end doesn’t hear her voice, providing another layer of anonymity. Wilson also noted re-reading her messages can help her figure out if she’s making sense, which can help calm her down.

Wilson said New Brunswickers with speech disabilities or difficulties can also benefit from the chat and can now reach out for help.

Still, even though Wilson believes the service is beneficial, she wishes the hours were longer.

“If I were to have an episode, I wouldn’t be able to use the service because it usually happens after 12 a.m.,” Wilson said.

Lisa O’Blenis, the executive director of Chimo and a former STU student, said they would like to expand the hours but don’t have the funding. O’Blenis started working on the project six months ago and said she pitched her idea to six different organizations. She has only received funding from two organizations – a $6,000 grant from the Fredericton Community Foundation and a $4,000 grant from United Way.

Despite Wilson’s preference for the chat format, O’Blenis said communicating through chat can be difficult.

“I don’t know if you’re crying or laughing or having a panic attack,” O’Blenis said. “You have to ask more questions to get answers, and sometimes it takes a while for someone to open up.”

As of March 12, O’Blenis said Chimo has received 39 chats. Almost 60 per cent of users were under the age of 30. O’Blenis said 64 per cent identified as women, 23 per cent as men, 10 per cent as transgender and three per cent as unidentified.

O’Blenis said Chimo helps with more than panic attacks and thoughts of suicide. Some New Brunswickers call the helpline to find out where the food banks are or look for advice. Parents will call from out of town, searching for advice to help their over-stressed university children, while children will call to see what help they provide their parents. Other times, users just want someone to talk to so they don’t have to feel lonely.

O’Blenis said the service is available to everyone in New Brunswick.

“Society is moving towards more online text and chat … and there’s definitely a need for more mental health services in Fredericton and in the province.”

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