A Warm Line operator works at their desk at the Mental Health Association of San Francisco headquarters. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

SF mental health help line gets funding boost, expands statewide

A Bay Area mental health call line is now available to all Californians thanks to millions of dollars in state funding that was announced by a pair of San Francisco legislators Monday.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, announced the $10.8 million infusion that will fund the call line, dubbed the Warm Line, for three years. It’s the first such call line in California, according to organizers.

“We know about the mental health challenges that we have in California and we see the most extreme situations in our streets,” Wiener said. “But of course we know that so many Californians may not quite be in crisis but they are maybe just about in crisis or they are at risk of going into crisis.”

“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,” Wiener said.

The non-emergency Warm Line — which launched statewide Monday and is expected to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the end of the year — provides emotional support and mental health care referrals to anyone in the state via phone or text.

“It’s a very simple concept to say, ‘You’re not alone,’” Ting said. “You can use it anytime you want for any reason you want.”

The line is staffed by “peer counselors” who undergo up to two weeks of training and who have themselves experienced mental or emotional health issues.

The Warm Line has been serving an average of 2,000 people per month in the Bay Area since 2014, according to its website. The new funding will expand the service statewide in order to provide support to all California residents.

At a Monday morning news conference held at the headquarters of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, which runs the line, Warm Line manager Sarah Jean Flynn said callers come from a wide range of backgrounds but all need the support and counseling that many people find difficult to access due to a lack of resources or insurance coverage.

“Over and over again we hear the same thing,” Flynn said. “The Warm Line was there when nobody else was.”

To talk to a Warm Line counselor, people can call or text (855) 845-7415 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

By Kiley Russell, Bay City News

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