The National Suicide Hotline transitioned to its new 988 number on Saturday to begin assisting an unprecedented number of people facing mental health crises.
But the Alabama Warmline, a program of Wings Across Alabama, works to head off crises before they occur by providing an outlet 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 having previously being limited to accepting calls from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“We have had a major influx in calls,” said Charisse Parker, program director of the Alabama Warmline. “For example in March we had maybe a little under 2,500 call minutes; in June we had a little over 17,000 call minutes.”
That’s a nearly eight-fold increase in the amount of time the phone lines certified peer specialists were able to offer early emotional support to callers.
Parker said the expansion goes beyond just the hours of access though, as the additional availability is also broadening the scope of who the Warmline is able to reach.
“It has traditionally been kept within mental health community, but now we’re doing a lot of marketing and networking to other populations as well,” Parker said. “People can call and talk about anything. (The Warmline) is for people having non-crisis situations, who are maybe feeling a little depressed; it’s open for people to call and talk about anything— the day they had at work. We get calls from individuals who may not self-disclose as having mental health challenges and that’s OK.”
Parker said the expansion is thanks in part to the trickling down of federal funding for mental health including 988 and said plans are being made to coordinate with the hotline in the near future.
“We do of course receive some crisis calls,” Parker said. “Those are typically suicidal ideations. We have specific policies and procedures in place with our distress protocol. I’m excited about 988. One thing I’m working on is facilitating warm handoffs. We can touch base with 988 providers in Alabama and facilitate a warm handoff. And when they receive calls that are non-crisis, they can hand those off to us to get the services they need.”
Wings is working to market the expanded warmline hours to demographics that have not previously been heavily reached, including senior adults who amy not be part of the mental health system.
“We are actually the platinum sponsor of the Miss Senior Alabama Pageant in Muscle Shoals this weekend,” Parker said. “We thought it was a good fit to focus on getting the word outside of the population we traditionally serve. Elderly seniors felt like a good fit for us. Also, we are looking to partner more with other nonprofits and mental health organizations.”
Parker said some people use the warmline daily, while some may call once a week. Others just call when they feel the need. But regardless, the wamrline’s existence provides a listening ear for people that can keep mental health issues from becoming a crisis.
“We have some callers who started calling on the verge of a crisis, but continue to call and now we have those warmline relationships; that’s one of the keys to what we do,” Parker said. “It’s the gift of having someone to talk to who is not going to judge them and will offer that support.”
All of the specialists answering the warmline are certified peer specialists, meaning they all deal with mental health challenges of their own and can use that experience to offer emotional support. But the specialists are there for emotional support and cannot provide counseling or therapy services.
“If someone calls needing additional services, we do refer them based on where they’re living to services that are able to 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 at the Wings Across Alabama website or on the Wings Across Alabama or Alabama Warmline Facebook pages.