We’ve all heard of suicide-prevention hotlines, and numbers folks can dial in an emergency. But what about a not-so-hotline for people looking to stave off a crisis before it happens?
Sometimes, the person who answers New Mexico's new Warmline is the only person that caller will speak to all day.
And Kerry Greer, a certified peer-support worker at the Warmline, said that real human interaction makes all the difference in a world riddled with empty digital contact. "We live in a world with all sorts of social media and where we can apparently connect with friends at any moment of the day, but loneliness is rampant," she said. "We actually aren’t as connected as we’d like to be because we just don’t have that voice there."
The Warmline had a soft opening in late-August, and even without publicizing the number, hundreds of calls were transferred over from other hotlines in the state. Callers get people just like them on the other end of the line—folks who’ve had lived experience of mental illness or substance abuse or both.
"Really, it’s just like talking to someone that you’d meet on the street almost," Greer said. "It kind of starts off where you’re just getting to know each other, and you’re just their equal. You’re not advising them. You’re helping them to find out what they need to do themselves. They need to make that decision."
She said that equal footing makes a big difference when it comes to showing people that it’s possible to change the way things are going. "As a peer support worker, you can tell your story," she said. "You know, counselors and therapists, they might have stories to tell but professionally they can’t tell those stories, whereas our story’s a big part of giving hope to the callers that you can get better. And you really can."
Zackary Kluckman is one of the people answering the Warmline. There are two men in particular who call regularly that remind him of his own life story. "A similar journey, similar pathways and even missteps. And it really reminds me of where I’ve come from," he said. "But it also really allows me to be able to relate to and resonate with these callers."
Kluckman said he knows there are not enough resources for people trying to manage behavioral health and substance abuse around the state. "I believe that this helps to fill that gap a lot," he said. "Clinicians, counselors, therapists, psychologists—they’re wonderful resources in the community. But there is at times a shortage of those. Even support groups."
The average length of a Warmline conversation is around 22 minutes, according to a news release, and more than 90 percent of callers say they just want to talk.
Kluckman said the peer-support workers have definitely helped avert bigger problems, even in the first few weeks. "Maybe they’re sort of pre-crisis, and they’re trying to avoid it," he said. "They can feel it coming. I mean, we’ve been on the phone with people in the midst of panic attacks where we spend time breathing with them, meditating, helping them kind of calm down and refocus and find their center again."
Phil Evans is the CEO of the company that operates the Warmline. "When we evaluate a decision to make that phone call (Am I in crisis? How desperate am I?) there’s a level of stigma," he said. "All too often, there’s a bar that someone needs to imagine being above in order to make that call to a hotline or a crisis line."
Evans’ company ProtoCall Services also runs the state’s 24-7 Crisis and Access Line. Crisis is disruptive, he said, and it’s not just the stuff you see on the news. It’s missed days at work, missed time with families. He said the Warmline could help streamline behavioral health services. "I think that the problems that face our behavioral health care system have a lot to do with coordination—or the lack of coordination."
And sometimes, he added, that means people fall through the cracks. "Getting discharged from a mental health facility and perhaps not getting followed up with, not knowing where individuals are in their services or not being able to provide 24/7 appointment scheduling."
Evans said in the future, the Warmline could help connect not just people to other people, but existing resources around the state.
The Warmline is up and running between 3:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. every day at 1-855-466-7100.
Public Health New Mexico is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.