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State Expands Access To Suicide, Mental Health Hotlines During COVID-19 Crisis


The state health department is expanding hours and staffing of phone lines for mental health therapy and suicide prevention. This comes amid a surge of requests from Montanans seeking emotional support during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

If you’re losing sleep, feeling unusually anxious, lonely, angry or depressed, you’re not alone. The world is a scary place these days.

"And we want to make sure that there are resources out there for people who are struggling during this time," says Zoe Barnard, who leads the state health department’s Addictive and Mental Disorders Division.

Barnard says there’s a growing demand for mental health services that Montanans can get from home.

The state health department is expanding call-in hours to what’s called the Montana Warmline.

"It is not a therapy line. It’s not a hotline. It’s a real human connection for people that might be struggling emotionally," Barnard says.

Warmline hours now run from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The Warmline typically gets between 250 and 300 calls per month. Barnard says it received that many calls in the last week and a half.

The state health department says it has increased funding going to Warmline and other mental health call-in lines to pay for increasing staff hours.

"Gov. Bullock has identified mental health crisis needs as a priority amongst the many priorities at this time. And so we will, of course, attempt to access federal funding if that becomes available, but this is a big enough priority that we've just found a way to pay for it," Barnard says.

Montana is consistently ranked among the top five states for its rate of suicide deaths.

Montana’s two Suicide Prevention call centers typically get about 18 calls a day. But between March 13 and March 31 state officials say they fielded an average of 39 calls a day.

The Montana Suicide Prevention Life Line is: 1-800-273-8255

The Montana Warmline is: 1-877-688-3377

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.