The State of Montana is terminating our contract for the Montana Warmline, help us stand up for continued services!
Mental Health America of Montana is the oldest mental health advocacy and education organization in the state of Montana with roots back to 1946. We ask the above question first for all Montanans, second for the individuals and families impacted by a mental health diagnosis, and lastly for the struggling community mental health centers that are committed to serve those Montanans most impacted by their illness. We are not in fear of retribution by the state of Montana Department of Health & Human Services or risking our financial livelihood like many mental health organizations that depend solely on state Medicaid as their financial driver. We do believe our civic leaders, county commissioners, state legislators, and the Governor's office need to step up and be a part of the solution.
Over the last few weeks and months there have been any number of newspaper articles, television stories, and virtual news feeds about the current and impending needs of Montanans (adults, youth, and children) for mental health services. The demand data indicates prevalence of mental health in Montana is ranked 38, a ranking 1-13 for prevalence indicates a lower prevalence of mental health and substance use issues compared to states that ranked 39-51.[i] 171,000 Montanans at any one time would meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, other than a developmental or substance use disorder – 12,000 of those are youth.[ii] Montana is number one in the nation for suicides. (Centers for Disease Control).[iii]
The state of Montana is going to hang its hat on the 988 line which will be a mental health crisis number, and calls will be handled by National Suicide Prevention Lifeline counselors.[iv] Full transparency – this is what happens now and has for the last number of years with The Help Center in Bozeman, Western Montana Mental Health Center in Missoula, and Voices of Hope in Great Falls. Nothing new here.
What is new is that the Montana Warm Line, a mental health recovery support line staffed with trained responders who are individuals with a lived experience with a mental health diagnosis, is being shelved after 14 years effective September 30, 2022. The line has provided over 29,000 hours of availability, listened to over 120,000 Montanans share their struggles with their illness, limited access to care, daily living needs, family/housing/employment struggles, and “loneliness”. Sixty-five percent (65%) of these callers offered that being able to call the Warm Line and get support saved them from a crisis as the responders helped them develop a recovery plan or plan of action or just a feeling of being worthwhile. The cost per call is $76, the cost per hour to have a responder available is $31 to be in comparison to the cost of one psychiatric inpatient admission averaged $3,675.[v] The Warm Line cost savings with these rates makes it incredibly valuable, yet it is going away.
The everyday Montanan on the street that may be part of the 171,000 who experiences symptoms of loneliness, depression, anxiety, grieving, trauma, debilitating chronic and mental health problems, and a sense of desperation will have one less supportive “I give a darn, I am hear to help, I care” line to call in and bring hope to their life.