This month includes recognition of World Mental Health Day, a special reminder about global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against the social stigma of mental health.

The event was first celebrated in 1992 and has grown into a worldwide recognition of mental illness and its impacts on people’s lives.

Just in time, the California Peer-Run Warm Line officially opened this month, offering free non-emergency emotional support and mental health referrals statewide. The Warm Line is run by peer counselors at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and is officially called a “warm line” instead of the traditional “hotline.”

“Think of a pot that's been left unattended and has started to boil over,” mentalhealthsf.org says. “Things are burning and smoke is filling the room, and we have to act now to prevent the damage from getting worse. Distress left for too long can be like that pot--suddenly boiling over into a crisis. But it takes time and a lot of heat to get to that boiling point. What if we'd done something sooner, while things were warming up but not yet dangerously hot? The Warm Line aims to be a highly accessible, low-threshold mental health resource that people can use to seek support before they've reached the crisis point, in the hope that support now will prevent a crisis later.”

The California Peer-Run Warm Line is 1-855-845-7415. It is staffed weekdays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The expectation is that it will be staffed full time, round-the-clock, before the new year.

Support is available from the line by either phone call or instant message.

The Warm Line also gets that name because its counselors hope to bring the warmth of human connection to every person seeking help.

The peers answering the phone are all people who have lived with the experience of mental health challenges, and use “empathy, understanding, and hope for recovery” in every exchange.

If you feel like you are experiencing a non-emergency mental health crisis, help is available via the phone or even web chat. Among the things, you can talk to a counselor about include relationships, anxiety, panic, depression, finance, and substance abuse.

The service is being paid for through the state budget with a $10.8 million allotment for the next three years.

“When addressing issues surrounding health, the conversation must also include emotional wellness. This new state resource builds on our current mental health system by serving a population that is not in crisis but still in need of support,” said Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco.

According to Mental Health America, about one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental health challenges in a given year. In peer-run or peer-to-peer engagement programs, someone who has personally gone through similar mental health challenges is providing support to callers.

The Warm Line is expected to get about 25,000 calls a year.

If you feel like you need more face-to-face and sustained help, call Lompoc Health – Counseling Center at 805-875-8850 for an appointment.

About the Author

Author: Ann S. Bockius, MFT, Marriage/Family Therapist

Ann S. Bockius was licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist in 1990. She works primarily with families, parents and children ages 2 to 18. She previously worked for eight years as a preschool teacher and director and for seven years as a Parent Co-Op Preschool director.

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