Bristol women's charity opens webchat for vulnerable deaf women
Live webchat sessions are being offered by a charity to deaf women in Bristol needing mental health support.
Womankind hopes to reach 700 women in its first year and 1,400 the next year.
Volunteer service co-ordinator Laura Gallagher said deaf women were "more likely to be abused than hearing women" but faced greater barriers to get help.
DeafBlind UK welcomed Womankind's work. It said there was "insufficient understanding of deafness and the connection with mental health".
The charity said there were about 11 million people with hearing problems and about 151,000 used British Sign Language (BSL) as their only or preferred form of communication.
Andrew Barnes, from DeafBlind UK, said: "There are many stories of health services using pen and paper to communicate with deaf patients, not realising that British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right.
"For some deaf people, mental health issues can start very early in childhood.
"We have heard of deaf people who have been waiting hours for urgent care in A&E because no interpreters are available or have had to rely on family members to interpret what is being said which infringes on that person's privacy and dignity," Mr Barnes added.
"We also know of people who have ended up in desperate situations which could have been avoided if accessible support was available," added Mr Barnes.
Womankind was inspired to create the webchat, which launches in June, after one of its deaf clients said there was no helpline for deaf women.
Ms Gallagher said she hoped it would "relieve emotional distress".
About £40,000 was fundraised to set up the secure, confidential web tool which will cost about £35,000 a year to run.
It also hopes to reach younger women who are more likely access help online.