NEED crisis line could close if funding not found

On Dec. 17, 6:12 a.m., a post by “babysas” goes live, letting the world know he or she is thinking about suicide since being diagnosed with a mental illness.

Dec. 17, 5:41 p.m., a response: “I can imagine how scary it might be for you,” writes Alex from Victoria’s youthspace.ca support team, operated by Need2. “Have you been able to express these suicidal concerns to someone you trust?”

Other youth are welcome to reply on the open forum, but none do. They’re watching and reading along, however. The thread has been viewed more than 600 times.

Volunteers moderate the site, responding to posts ranging from sexual abuse to suicide.

But it’s a service with a deadline. By June 30, Need2 will shut its doors, if funding doesn’t come forward.

“The board has to be fiscally responsible and ensure we have enough left to properly shut down,” said executive director Jane Arnott.

Last year marked a tough year for the organization, formerly known as the Need Crisis and Information Line.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority cut funding to its 24-hour crisis phone line. Later, the Ministry of Children and Family Development pulled its $43,000 grant for Need’s suicide prevention programs for youth.

Since then, Need has downsized and rebranded, but continued providing its suicide-prevention programs, largely by drawing on its reserve funds.

Those funds are running out. Only $30,000 of Need’s $270,000-budget has been confirmed for 2011, said Arnott.

The budget covers salaries for five staff (two full-time) who run two programs and oversee 15 volunteers.

Need2 conducts awareness presentations at schools and runs youthspace.ca. The website allows young people to post on the forum, or to chat online with volunteers.

Due to financial limitations, however, volunteers are only available to chat between Thursday and  Sunday, from 5 to 11 p.m.

A province-wide website serving a similar function offers much better hours.

Volunteers working for www.youthinbc.com are available between noon and 1 a.m., seven days a week. The website, run by B.C.’s Crisis Centre, does not offer discussion forums.

Forums are a key element of the Victoria-based website.

It provides a sense of affiliation, and brings exposure to the positive messaging contained in responses, said Arnott. “The local focus was also very important,” she added. “We wanted a site that could assist … them transition to more specialized or face-to-face services.”

Meanwhile, more than two months have lapsed for babysas, who has spent the time alone at home with the blinds drawn, talking to nobody but posting often.

Feb. 3: a breakthrough. “There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel … getting out and meeting up with family over the past few days has done me good,” wrote babysas.

Feb. 6: a response. “How great to achieve something you thought you couldn’t! … We’re happy you’ve found a safe place with youthspace.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

By the numbers

• Between 2005-2008, 26 people under the age of 29 died by suicide in the Capital Regional District.

• Since November, youth have initiated 120 online chats with volunteers at youthspace.ca.