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    California’s New Emotional Support Line

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    “They listened with empathy and helped me through my stress. That alleviated my anxiety about the present and future.”

    That’s testimony from a Californian who called into the San Francisco Peer-Run Warm Line, which has been offering free, non-emergency emotional support via telephone or online chat since 2014. The person was not in crisis, but just needed someone to talk to after finding that other services lacked transgender cultural competency.

    Suicide hotlines have been around for years, but services such as the “warm line” for people who are not at that stage are less prevalent. The Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) filled this gap with its Peer-Run Warm Line. After seeing the positive impact this resource was making in the local community, the organization set their sights on making it available statewide and requested funds from the Legislature to help even more people.

    I was proud to work with State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Governor Newsom to secure $10.8 million over three years in this year’s state budget to broaden the Warm Line’s reach. On October 7, the California Peer-Run Warm Line made its debut—just three days before World Mental Health Day. The number is 1-855-845-7415, and help is also available via online chat at www.mentalhealthsf.org

    One in six Californians experiences a mental health challenge, with numbers likely higher in the LGBTQ community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGBTQ individuals are at a higher risk than the general population for suicidal thoughts and attempts, with adults more than twice as likely to experience a mental health condition.

    The Warm Line complements the current mental health care system by providing another way to save lives and preventing the need for more expensive, crisis-based interventions, like hospitalization. Adding to the program’s success is peer-to-peer engagement. The person on the other end of the line, a peer counselor, has gone through similar mental health challenges and can relate with the struggles.

    Some of the top concerns discussed on the Warm Line include relationship issues, depression, loneliness, drug/alcohol abuse, and homelessness. These problems can reach a crisis point without ongoing support. While it won’t address all of our mental health needs, the Warm Line can help take pressure off other local programs as they serve more people.

    For now, it’s staffed every day beginning at 7 am. The call center closes on weekdays at 11 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm, and Sundays at 9 pm. The goal is to ramp up to 24/7 service by the end of the year. About 25,000 calls are expected to come in every year.

    The state has also made other investments to address the mental health needs of its population. While many of our programs are operated at the county level, they’re funded by a portion of the state sales tax and the Proposition 63 millionaire’s tax allocated through the state budget. I am especially proud of our Housing and Homelessness Package in this year’s state budget, which includes a whole-person care initiative, incorporating comprehensive mental health services to help get people off the streets.

    The California Peer-Run Warm Line is off to a great start with nearly 600 calls in the first week. Those numbers highlight not only the need for emotional support, but also a craving for it. I truly believe that when addressing issues surrounding health, the conversation must also include emotional wellness. I’m committed to looking for more ways to boost our mental health system.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City.