California launched its first statewide mental health phone line on Monday for callers seeking to talk with someone about their mental health or emotional challenges.

The state budget allocated nearly $11 million over the next three years to expand the Warm Line, a toll-free, non-emergency, peer-run emotional support service that offers referrals as well as a compassionate ear to those in need.

The Warm Line office and call center is based in downtown San Francisco, where it has served the nine-county Bay Area since 2014. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, spearheaded the push to fund the service expansion, making it possible for Warm Line to increase staffing and to begin taking calls from the public across the state.

Jerold Chinn/SFBay State Sen. Scott Wiener presents Mark Salazar, executive director of San Francisco Mental Health Association, with a check of $3.6 million during a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, October 7, to help run the state’s first mental health hotline.

Wiener said at a press conference that the phone line is designed to bridge the support gap for the many Californians at risk of a mental or emotional crisis.

Wiener said:

“They feel alone and isolated and they don’t necessarily want to go to the emergency room or they maybe don’t have the resources to seek out mental health care or counseling, but they need support.”

According to Ting, the Warm Line receives approximately 24,000 calls per year.

Ting said:

“Those are 24,000 people who just need someone to talk to.”

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Counselors who work for Warm Line are seen working inside the call center in San Francisco, Calif, on Monday, October 7, 2019.

The staff who answer calls are people who have lived through some of the same mental and emotional challenges that callers are experiencing in the moment, Warm Line’s Program Manager Sarah Jean Flynn said.

Mark Salazar, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, which runs hotline, said there are number of benefits to the peer structure.

Salazar said:

“They can really relate to individuals who call. We really value that as an organization. We believe by having that experience you can relate better. You can truly understand what someone else is going through.”

Currently, Warm Line operates Mondays to Fridays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. With help from the new budget, staffing will be ramped up and the hotline is expected to be available 24/7 by the end of year.

Anyone in need can speak with a peer counselor free of charge by calling (855) 845-7415.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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