Friday, June 22 , 2018, 8:10 am | Fog/Mist 60º


Transitions-Mental Health Association Launches Support Line

The Friendship Line is a peer-to-peer support service for people suffering mental illness

Transitions-Mental Health Association has launched a Friendship Line in northern Santa Barbara County for people living with a mental illness.

This Friendship Line is a peer-to-peer, noncrisis telephone support line that is run and staffed by people who have experienced mental illness themselves. The Friendship Line is not a crisis line but will work in conjunction with SLO Hotline and other crisis lines in Santa Barbara County. If there is an emergency, please call 9-1-1, or for an emotional crisis please call the crisis hotline at 800.549.4499.

The Friendship Line provides supportive listening for callers living with a mental illness in Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Lompoc.

“Calls to the Friendship Line generally involve conversations about everyday aspects of life, mental health symptoms and recovery, daily responsibilities, relationships, and positive life events,” program manager Steve Greene said. “We hope that callers value being able to freely discuss any topic they choose and to experience a personal connection while doing so.”

The Friendship Line is available seven nights a week from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. by calling 805.345.1877. People can call anytime and leave a message if calling outside the designated time and staff will return calls during operating hours.

“The Friendship Line is unique, providing a friendly source of peer support during hours when other services are often not available,” Greene said.

Currently, four people have been hired to answer calls from the community, including peers from the Santa Maria Recovery Learning Community.

“This is a great training and employment opportunity for people to use their communication skills,” said Frank Ricceri, associate director at TMHA for northern Santa Barbara County. “It is essential and extremely valuable that Friendship Line is staffed by peers in order to create mutual support, non-judgmental acceptance and a sense of community. Consumers may relate differently to peers than to professionals and people with lived experience can provide the support of someone who truly understands.”

The Friendship Line was established as a connection to local people and resources.

“There has been an increase of understanding surrounding mental illness which has created a strong movement to do something to help,” Ricceri said. “There seems to be an undercurrent of desire for this kind of service in our community and we have seen success with Friendship Lines in other communities.”

The future of Friendship Line will include hiring a bilingual staff member to answer calls for monolingual Spanish speakers and expanded hours of operation with additional funds.

“The Friendship Line staff offers a friendly ear, support and encouragement to clients who call,” Greene said. “Our staff will also interact with callers by listening, extending friendship, initiating conversation and offering referrals to other services.”

The Friendship Line is funded by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) through the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) as a part of their statewide Suicide Prevention Project.

A similar Warmline for southern Santa Barbara County is coming soon as part of this same project.

“This Warmline will be established and run by the Mental Wellness Center of Santa Barbara, with TMHA providing all necessary assistance and consultation,” Ricceri said.

— Shannon McOuat is a marketing coordinator for Transitions-Mental Health Association.

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