Lawrence's Headquarters Counseling Center will later this week begin offering crisis counseling via online instant messaging.
Douglas County residents can access the free, confidential feature beginning Wednesday through Headquarters' website by clicking on the "Are you in crisis? Let's chat" button on the right side.
Chris Maxwell, a project coordinator at Headquarters, said many people in crisis are more comfortable communicating by instant message because that way even their voices are anonymous. He said a transgender person was once afraid to call because she thought her deep voice might get her mistaken for a man.
"I think it gives them the freedom to say what they're feeling without worrying about being judged," Maxwell said. That also means online conversations will usually be more intense than phone calls, he added.
Crisis centers across the country are increasingly turning to digital tools to counsel those in need, with text messaging also becoming increasingly popular in the field. Maxwell said Headquarters will likely look into offering that option in the future.
The pilot program will be offered Wednesdays from 2-4 p.m. and Saturdays from 6-8 p.m. and to Douglas County residents only. After studying how the trial period goes, the counseling center hopes to expand the online chat option to the rest of the state and other days and times.
The program costs about $2,000 a year and is being paid for by a Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention grant.