State expands mental health resources; can be accessed from home

St. Vincent Healthcare

A tent in the parking lot of St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings will be used as a coronavirus testing site pictured here on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Only people with doctors orders will be tested.

Following a surge in calls to a state-funded phone line by people in crisis and needing emotional support, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said it’s expanding mental health services.

“We continue to monitor and make adjustments as necessary to meet the needs of Montanans during this challenging time,” said department director Sheila Hogan in a press release Wednesday. “While we are focused on limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our state, we must also not forget the mental health needs of our friends and neighbors. Please help us connect people to resources that are available.”

The Montana Warmline will now operate from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday and noon to 9 p.m. on weekends. The service, which is free and confidential, can be reached by calling 1-877-688-3377 or going to http://montanawarmline.org.

The service is operated by Mental Health America of Montana, and those who reach out are connected to people who have lived through navigating behavioral health challenges. The line is not a crisis line but will connect people to appropriate services. The health department has also boosted its funding by $20,000 to increase staffing.

“This has been a valuable service over the years, and now Montanans are finding it very helpful as they work through their mental health needs,” Hogan said in the release.

Zoe Barnard, the administrator of the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division of the state health department, said Wednesday the Warmline normally sees between 250-320 calls in a month, but has had about that many since March 24.

There are other services for people who need them. The Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is also available. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is also free and confidential. The health department is adding $75,000 to increase capacity there. The line had already seen a 43% increase in calls between 2018-2019.

“We know the Lifeline has been used more and more by Montanans, and it’s important that people are aware of it,” Hogan said.

Barnard said in 2019 the suicide hotline got about 18 calls a day, but from March 13-31 averaged about 39 daily.

“It is a normal thing during a crisis like this for people to feel anxious, uncertain, scared, sad, angry, and if someone needs help we want to make sure that they have a way to get it,” Barnard said.

People can also text the Montana Crisis Text Line, by texting “MT” to 741741. Counselors respond to these texts and can help in a behavioral health crisis. Use of this program has also gone up 105% over the last two years.

Additionally, the department is directing $25,000 to Thrive, which is online cognitive behavioral therapy operated by Waypoint Health. The program is meant to help people navigate anxiety and stress.

“The cognitive behavioral skills can be an incredibly effective tool to reduce long-term anxiety and depression,” said Matt Kuntz, of the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery at Montana State University, in a press release.