The National Suicide Hotline moved to its new number 988 on Saturday to begin helping unprecedented numbers of people facing mental health crises.
But the Alabama Warmline, a program of Wings Across Alabama, works to avert crises before they happen by providing a way for all people to speak to a certified peer specialist about any issues they may be facing. .
And on June 1, the warmline underwent a major expansion by expanding to 24/7 access after previously being limited to accepting calls from 2-8 p.m.
“We’ve had a major influx of calls,” said Charisse Parker, program director for Alabama Warmline. “For example, in March we had maybe just under 2,500 call minutes; in June, we had just over 17,000 call minutes.
That’s an almost eightfold increase in the time that peer-certified phoneline specialists were able to provide early emotional support to callers.
Parker said the expansion goes beyond access hours, as the additional availability also expands the scope of the Warmline.
“It’s traditionally been kept within the mental health community, but now we’re doing a lot of marketing and networking with other populations as well,” Parker said. “People can call and talk about anything. (The Warmline) is for people in a non-crisis situation, who may be feeling a bit depressed; it’s open for people to call and talk about anything – the day they had at work. We get calls from people who may not be reporting that they have mental health issues and that’s okay.
Parker said the expansion was partly due to federal funding for mental health, including 988, and said plans are underway to coordinate with the hotline in the near future.
“Of course we get crisis calls,” Parker said. “These are usually suicidal thoughts. We have specific policies and procedures in place with our distress protocol. I’m excited about the 988. One thing I’m working on is making hot transfers easier. We can connect with 988 suppliers in Alabama and facilitate a warm transfer. And when they receive calls that aren’t urgent, they can forward them to us to get the services they need. »
Wings is working to market the extended hours to demographics that haven’t been heavily impacted before, including seniors who aren’t part of the mental health system.
“We’re actually the platinum sponsor of the Miss Senior Alabama pageant at Muscle Shoals this weekend,” Parker said. “We thought it was appropriate to focus on spreading the message outside of the population we traditionally serve. The elderly suited us perfectly. Additionally, we are looking to partner more with other nonprofit and mental health organizations. »
Parker said some people use the helpline daily, while others may call once a week. Others only call when they feel the need. Either way, the existence of the Alert Line offers a listening ear for people who can prevent mental health issues from becoming a crisis.
“We have callers who started calling on the brink of a crisis but keep calling and now we have these warm relationships; it’s one of the keys to what we do,” Parker said. “It’s the gift of having someone to talk to who isn’t going to judge them and who will offer that support.”
All of the specialists who answer the helpline are certified peer specialists, which means that they all deal with their own mental health issues and can use this experience to offer emotional support. But specialists are there for emotional support and cannot provide counseling or therapy.
“If someone calls to need additional services, we refer them based on where they live to services that can help them further,” Parker said.
The Warmline is now accepting calls at 1-844-999-4647 (1-844-99WINGS). The line is free and completely confidential. More information can be found on the Wings Across Alabama website or on the Wings Across Alabama or Alabama Warmline Facebook pages.