State Health Department Expands Mental-Health Services Amid Surge in Calls

DPHHS increases funding for early crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention hotlines

By Myers Reece
A sign in Whitefish on March 17. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced on April 1 an expansion of mental-health services to help Montanans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DPHHS has experienced a surge in calls on both its early crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention hotlines during the public-health crisis. The department has directed additional funding to both hotlines, as well as to Thrive by Waypoint Health, an online cognitive behavioral therapy program.

DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said the department has responded to the increased demand for its Montana Warmline by extending hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. DPHHS increased its funding by $20,000 for additional staffing. The Montana Warmline is operated by Mental Health America of Montana.

“We continue to monitor and make adjustments as necessary to meet the needs of Montanans during this challenging time,” Hogan said. “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 is a free and confidential service staffed by people who understand behavioral health needs. The service provides early crisis intervention with emotional support that can prevent a crisis and is available at 877-688-3377 or at montanawarmline.org.     

The Warmline, which launched in 2009, is designed for Montanans who may need mental health support. Hogan emphasized that it’s not a crisis line, although responders often refer people who are in crisis to appropriate services.

“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.

  “It provides a friendly and understanding person for those who just need someone to talk to,” she added. “It is not online therapy.”

The Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) provides free and confidential support for people in distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hogan said DPHHS added more resources to the service in 2019 to improve call center capacity in order to handle rising demand and is now adding $75,000 due to increased calls.

The Montana Crisis Text Line, which can be accessed by texting “MT” to 741741, is also available.

DPHHS is also providing an additional $25,000 for more licenses to Thrive by Waypoint Health, an online cognitive behavioral therapy program for people actively working to manage 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. “We’re delighted to have an online self-help tool available to teach those skills in people’s home.”

Access to Thrive and other resources can be found at dphhs.mt.gov.

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