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New helpline connects Washington youth to suite of services

A white male speaker stands at a podium while several people stand behind him listening.
Attorney General's Office
Conner Mertens speaks during State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's press conference to announcing the launch of the youth helpline HearMeWa.

Young people across Washington have a new resource to help them navigate difficult situations. HearMeWa is a helpline for anyone in the state 25 and under, where they can reach out to find help with “anything that makes life hard.”

“Youth in crisis don't just get in crisis,” said suicide prevention advocate Conner Mertens, who led the creation of the helpline. “There's a lot of steps before they get there. So we wanted to make sure that we're curbing the issues that lead to crises. This is more of a prevention tool than an intervention tool.”

Mertens has first-hand experience with these types of tools. As a teen living in Kennewick, Washington, he called the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for young LGBTQ people.

“I was in a crisis moment,” Mertens said. “And somebody picked up the phone, I heard a voice. I was able to just hang up right away, and I cried. I wasn’t ready to talk, I was scared to use the services, but it was life changing, knowing that there was someone and something there for me.”

Mertens went on to become the first openly LGBTQIA+ active college football player while playing for Willamette University in Oregon. But, in the years that followed, his hometown experienced a string of youth suicides.

“They were kids from my old high school. They could have been me,” Mertens said.

So, Mertens reached out to his local legislator, then-state senator Sharon Brown, and started talking about creating a mental health resource for students.

That years-long effort has turned into HearMeWa, which was launched this month by the Attorney General’s office. HearMeWa connects young people to trained crisis counselors at the Sandy Hook Promise National Crisis Center, and they will help callers find the unique services they need.

Headshot of a smiling young white man with brown medium length brown hair and a brown mustache wearing a light blue collard shirt.
Courtesy of Conner Mertens
Conner Mertens is a suicide prevention advocate from Kennewick, Washington who led the creation of the new HearMeWa youth helpline.

This makes the helpline unique because it takes a more holistic approach than others that traditionally rely on emergency services or school-based responses.

Anyone 25 and under or any concerned adult can file a report with HearMeWA by phone or text. There’s also an app that they can do so anonymously if they want.

The helpline is just one part of the puzzle of helping young people navigate the difficulties they are facing. Especially considering the levels of gun violence students are experiencing. Research indicates firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. Mertens said getting students connected to their community can help.

“A lot of the issues that we talked about are driven from loneliness, whether that is violence, or suicide, or self-harm, or eating disorders, or any of these things, a lot of it comes from loneliness, and lack of feeling connected to things,” Mertens said.

Mertens said he’s proud to see the helpline launch, especially because of the direct involvement of young people from all over the state who helped create the helpline through a youth advisory council.

“I wish we had it earlier. I wish I had it earlier. But moving forward, there's a lot of youth that are going to benefit from this,” Mertens said. “We have a duty to do this in honor of those folks that didn't make it to today.”


Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing maina@knkx.org.