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Karra Harrington
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When most people think of “mental health,” they tend to think of therapy.

While therapy can be transformative, it isn’t the only option available to those seeking mental health support. Over the past few years there has been a big increase in other kinds of support options, each with their own strengths, costs, and approaches. Even if you want therapy, these other kinds of support may be helpful to use while you’re waiting to get started with your therapist. They may even be recommended by your therapist to help you make progress in therapy.

In our Beyond Therapy series, we’ll give you an overview of some of the most common and effective options other than therapy, how to figure out if they fit your needs, and where to look when you are ready for help. In this post, we focus on warmlines.

For this post, we interviewed Dr. Rebecca Spirito Dalgin, Director of Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Program at University of Scranton, who has researched the impact and benefits of warmlines for mental health recovery. 

If you are in crisis right now, read our post What to do in a Mental Health Crisis for immediate steps you can take to keep yourself safe.

What are warmlines?

Warmlines are phone services that provide emotional and social support for individuals who are not in a crisis. They are typically operated by trained peer specialists, who may be paid or volunteer, and have been through their own mental health challenges. 

Dr. Dalgin says that warmlines are an essential part of the mental health recovery system that are designed as an alternative to traditional hotline crisis services for callers who are not actually in crisis but are seeking support. She adds that peer specialists “can offer hope, strength, and knowledge gained from their own personal experience of the recovery process.” 

What are the pros and cons of using warmlines?

There are many advantages to accessing support via a warmline, including that they are often available outside business hours and can provide a cost-effective source of support. Warmlines help to fill a gap in mental health care by offering support at those times when you need someone to talk to, especially during the night when other services might not be available. 

Dr. Dalgin’s research also highlights several benefits for warmline callers, including feeling less isolated, more optimistic about their future, and experiencing greater community integration, such as recreation activities and socializing with others. 

Dr. Dalgin notes that there are a “very wide variety of operational and funding differences among warmlines.” This means that the service provided, hours of operation, etc. can be somewhat different between warmlines. 

For example, while some warmlines are open 24/7, others are only available on certain days or times. Some warmlines also have a limit on the amount of time per call, while others have unlimited time and can talk with you as long as you need. It can be helpful to check some of these details online before you call, or to ask up front during the call so that you know what to expect. 

How do warmlines differ from other kinds of support?

Dr. Dalgin says that a warmline is “not a clinical treatment option, so if callers are needing that they would then be referred to services to assist them in a more clinical way.” 

It’s important to understand that the support provided via a warmline is from a peer specialist, not a mental health professional. While they have their own experience of mental health challenges, they are not trained in treating specific problems (e.g. anxiety, depression). Additionally, you won’t necessarily speak to the same person each time you call, so these services don’t provide the same continuity of care as you would receive from a therapist. 

Warmlines also differ from hotlines, which focus on keeping you safe and connecting you with resources to deal with an immediate crisis. Whereas, warmlines are designed to provide support and social connection outside of a crisis situation (and hopefully prevent a crisis by addressing issues at an earlier stage). We also have an article on mental health hotlines that provides a more in depth look at these services.  

Getting started

You can find a national directory of warmlines at warmline.org

You can also search Healwise’s directory for affordable mental healthcare options in your area, or check out the other articles in our Beyond Therapy series, including mHealth apps and support groups

Beyond Therapy
Understanding Your Options
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