LA teams up with texting-based crisis counseling service

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The city of Los Angeles announced a partnership Monday with a national nonprofit to help Angelenos experiencing crises due to mental health problems or other issues. The city will promote the Crisis Text Line in exchange for getting data on the challenges facing the people who use the service.

The round-the-clock service allows people to communicate confidentially via text about their situation; volunteers also provide referrals to services when they’re needed.

"If you think you’re in a crisis, that’s a crisis to us. So our issues range from bullying to finances to suicidality to homeless … really whatever issue our user needs," said Maggie Van de Loo, Crisis Text Line’s L.A. director. Program volunteers also help people dealing with depression and the aftermath of sexual assault.

"We like to think of ourself as a tech and data company that happens to do mental health," said Van de Loo.

The partnership will generate data that will help city officials "make ... policy decisions and programming offerings on a larger scale," she said.

Crisis Text Line works with other partners as well, including the the California Community Colleges system, which gets data relevant to community college students who reach out.

The program said it has had text conversations with 75,000 Angelenos since its founding four years ago. More than 75 percent of those who’ve used the service are under 25 years old, and 70 percent are non-white, it said.

Crisis Text Line isn’t the only text-based helpline. The Trevor Project and Teen Line offer similar services.

Van de Loo believes texting can be easier than talking in some cases.

"You don’t have to risk someone overhearing you, if you’re being bullied at school you can text from the lunch table. If you’re in a domestic violence situation and you’re worried about someone who might harm you overhearing, you’re able to discreetly, quietly, privately connect with help that you might otherwise not have gotten," she said.

Bee Horton started volunteering with the text line at the beginning of 2017 as part of her New Year’s resolution.

"The training equips us to help anybody with any crisis to work out coping skills and empower them to get from a hot, panicked, crisis state into a cool, calm place and have a plan to keep them safe," she said.

The 33-year-old Culver City resident said she wishes she had a service like this one to help support her after being raped when she was in college.

"Through my training of how to support people through a sexual assault, it really was eye opening to learn that I wasn’t to blame and it wasn’t something I should feel ashamed of," said Horton. "So now helping other people through those experiences and various other crisis, I almost counseled myself at the same time."

People who want to use the Crisis Text Line can text 741741. The code for Los Angeles residents is "LA."