More than 44 million adults in the U.S. have a mental health condition and that number continues to grow each year. As Americans look for services to turn to for help, one of the most well-known solutions is the crisis or suicide hotline. The text message or voice-based service is often known to provide immediate and urgent support to those facing a mental health crisis. But, with the looming physical, financial and emotional burden for those at risk, some have been wondering what options exist before you reach the point of a crisis. That’s where states around the nation are stepping in with their new warmlines.

In an interview with USA Today, Sarah Flinspach, a project coordinator for the National Council for Behavioral Health shared that "Warmlines help people who think, 'I don't know why I'm not feeling great, or who to turn to, or where to get care, and I don’t know for sure if I even need care'". She further added: "It might be the call that helps someone go back to work that day."

Unlike a hotline, warmlines provide early intervention with peer-led emotional support that can help to prevent the need to use a more costly emergency option like a call to 911 or a visit to the ER. They’re generally free, confidential support services staffed by trained volunteers or paid employees that have experienced a mental health condition firsthand. While about 30 states have some sort of a warmline available, California is one of the largest and most recent states to implement such a service.

Since beginning in 2014, the San Francisco Peer-Run Warm Line has answered more than 100,000 calls and served more than 5,000 people. And as of October of this year, the organization is expanding its reach to provide its services statewide with a recent state-allocated budget of $10.8 million for use over the next three years. The expansion marks a huge step forward for the state and creates an opportunity for other states to follow their lead.

"People pay attention when the biggest state in the union decides to say mental health services are not just for crisis," said Mark Salazar in an interview with USA Today. He is the executive director for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

Why This Matters –

In general, getting access to basic mental health care can be a struggle. And when you consider the experience for those in rural or urban communities, the challenge becomes amplified. When access to care is limited or after-hours support is needed, warmlines help to fill the gap.

They can also save the public money. In Oregon, a federally funded warmline found that over a five-year period the average cost of a call was just about $10 – which is significantly less than the cost of a 911 call or ER visit. The warmline also provided callers direct referrals to providers which prevented callers from choosing, often unnecessary, higher levels of care. These savings resulted in approximately $1.2 million each quarter from 2015 to 2016.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.