The Oakton-based nonprofit that runs Northern Virginia’s suicide and crisis hotline is now offering mental health services specifically geared toward young, LGBTQ people.
PRS announced yesterday (Thursday) that it’s hiring 40 new crisis workers who have specialized training and experience to handle calls and texts from LGBTQ individuals who are 25 or younger.
“Providing tailored crisis services will help us reach more people and connect them with safer life-saving services and resources that affirm their identities,” PRS CEO Joseph Getch said in a statement. “We now have crisis workers dedicated to this community that have additional training, lived experience, and a dedication to serving individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community. We are proud and eager to provide hope, empathy, and compassion.”
Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 9-8-8 was established by Congress in 2020 as the nationwide phone number for accessing emergency mental health support. It officially replaced the pre-existing, 10-digit number on July 16, 2022.
The legislation required the new lifeline to have a “mechanism” where LGBTQ youth, minority and rural callers can access specialized services, because those populations are statistically at higher risk of contemplating or dying by suicide.
More than half (52%) of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual or who are questioning their sexual identity reported recently experiencing poor mental health, and 45% had seriously considered suicide within the past year compared to 15% for their heterosexual peers, according to a February report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC report, which examined trends from 2011 to 2021, didn’t address gender identity, but this summer, Denmark released a first-of-its-kind study that found transgender people died by suicide at 3.5 times the rate of the rest of the country’s population.
In Virginia, 43% of LGBTQ youth, including 53% of transgender and nonbinary youth, reported seriously considering suicide in the past year. In addition, 13% of LGBTQ youth, including 17% of trans and nonbinary individuals, attempted suicide in the past year, according to state-level data collected in 2022 by The Trevor Project.
The LGBTQ youth-focused suicide prevention nonprofit attributes those trends to the rejection and discrimination those populations experience in society, especially in a year when lawmakers have introduced hundreds of bills restricting their access to health care, education and other rights.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration rolled out policies in July that direct schools to identify students based on their legal sex and names, though Fairfax County Public Schools has maintained its existing policies that support transgender and gender-expansive students.
“We know these young people face stigma, discrimination, and oppression making reaching out for help and connecting to safe resources incredibly difficult and scary,” Gretch said, noting that PRS is continuing “to evolve our crisis services to meet the needs of different populations.”
Established in 1963, PRS provides therapy, peer support, housing and employment assistance and other behavioral health services, along with its CrisisLink call center, which receives 14,000 calls per month on average, including 4,500 from Northern Virginia.
According to a press release, PRS is one of only four 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline centers in the country to offer chat and texting option to LGBTQ youth in addition to calls.
The LGBTQIA+ service provides several ways to get in touch: text “Q” to 988; press 3 when prompted while calling 988; or go to 988lifeline.org/chat and check the LGBTQI+ box in the pre-chat survey. These options are designed for anyone under 25 who wants to connect with a trained crisis worker specifically focused on meeting the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults.
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