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New Statewide Mental Health Helpline Expands Resources For San Diegans

In this undated photo, an unidentified woman answers a phone in the Mental Health Association of San Francisco's call center for its California Peer-Run Warm Line.
David Elliott Lewis / Mental Health Association of San Francisco
In this undated photo, an unidentified woman answers a phone in the Mental Health Association of San Francisco's call center for its California Peer-Run Warm Line.

Californians can now call a phone number if they need emotional support. Officials this week announced a statewide non-emergency toll-free helpline that connects callers with peer counselors.

The new service is called the California Peer-Run Warm Line, and it complements a local phone service that’s already available to San Diegans but offers a different form of support. San Diego County’s Access and Crisis Line is staffed by certified professionals while the statewide resource employs people with lived experiences.

New Statewide Mental Health Helpline Expands Resources For San Diegans
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

California Peer-Run Warm Line

(855) 845-7415

Mon. to Fri.: 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Sat.: 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Sun.: 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.

San Diego Access and Crisis Line

(888) 724-7240

7 days a week, 24 hours

Imperial County Mental Health Crisis Line

(800) 817-5292

7 days a week, 24 hours

Dr. Michael Bailey, medical director for the public sector at Optum, which manages the San Diego County line, said its phone operators are qualified to address a range of scenarios.

“These clinicians have training in suicide prevention and crisis intervention and can make referrals to mental health resources as well as drug and alcohol treatment programs,” Bailey said.

He said the practitioners are up-to-date with the availability of local resources.

"We're able to know the changes that have taken place, the new staff that have come on board, new programs that have started, so that's the advantage because we're pretty good at keeping our ear to the ground, so to speak, about what's happening locally," he said.

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The new statewide phone line offers a different kind of expert perspective.

Peter Murphy, outreach manager for the warm-line’s organizing agency Mental Health Association of San Francisco, said its phone operators are engaged listeners who have overcome their own behavioral health challenges.

“We don’t provide advice, we’re more helping people that call find their own solutions,” he said.

Murphy, who has worked at the warm line call center, said that kind of care helped him with his substance abuse and mental health issues.

“Peer recovery has always been an important part of my own story — having others that have found ways to change their lives, to make things better,” he said. “I feel like that kind of example for folks who call in is really helpful.”

He said the warm line experience can encourage callers to seek clinical assistance, such as phoning San Diego's professionally staffed line.

"We can complement each other, really," he said.

The San Francisco-based resource launched in 2014 to serve callers in the Bay Area, according to its website. California lawmakers announced a statewide expansion of the service Monday ahead of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10. State Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Phil Ting, both Democrats from the Bay Area, helped secure $10.8 million in state funds over three years to increase the access. This week also marks National Mental Illness Awareness.

The warm-line isn’t staffed all hours of the day, but the organization wants to provide round-the-clock support by the end of the year. Murphy said it currently has 10 to 15 peer counselors on staff but hopes to grow that to 40. The counselors receive about a week of training. Their support is intended to help people before they reach a crisis point.

San Diego’s phone line began in 1997 and is both an access and crisis resource that is staffed 24 hours a day. Its operation costs about $5 million annually, a county spokeswoman said. Its clinicians received more than 64,000 calls last fiscal year, according to a recent report provided by the county.

Both the state and local service offers support via online messaging during certain hours. Imperial County also operates a 24-hour crisis line for its residents.

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