Since 1979, Transitions-Mental Health Association has developed and operated housing, employment, and wellness support programs in San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara Counties for adults and youth living with mental illness.
A core component of their work is the Central Coast Hotline, a confidential, free mental health guidance, crisis and suicide prevention hotline, available 24/7, thanks to compassionate and highly trained Crisis Line Specialists on the Central Coast who listen and offer support and local resources.
While use of the service was increasing, their team noticed that only 1% of the Hotline contacts were coming from those 21 years old and under.
"We knew that people in this age group were struggling. We see mental health crises and even suicide among people in this age group but were not seeing this group make use of the hotline," said Michael Kaplan, Community Engagement Director at Transitions-Mental Health Association.
“Teens prefer to text,” added Melanie Barket, Central Coast Hotline Program Manager. “We want them to use this resource anytime they need it, in the way they are most comfortable.”
Determined to ensure that this population was not left behind, the Central Coast Hotline added a texting component to make the service more accessible to young people throughout the Central Coast. In March 2022, Must! Charities awarded Central Coast Hotline a grant to replace an outmoded phone system, add a 24/7 texting service, continue an innovative Brief Therapy Clinic, and move the entire Hotline headquarters into a new building.
Later in 2022, TMHA applied for American Rescue Plan Act funding, citing the need to promote these services to young people throughout San Luis Obispo County. They were awarded a grant and quickly used it to expand TMHA’s High School Program, with an emphasis on TMHA’s Education & Outreach Coordinator and additional trained presenters making presentations on suicide prevention and mental health to students in High School and Middle School Health classes throughout SLO County.
They also were able to hire a Text Coordinator to oversee an outreach and marketing campaign focused on the new texting component of the Central Coast Hotline, as well as train staff and volunteers using curriculum developed specifically for texting by the International Council of Helplines.
The texting option is quickly taking off. Program staff recorded 124 texting conversations over the last quarter, and that number is quickly climbing as more people learn of the service.
"We knew this service would be an asset to the community, but the steep rise in use over such a short period of time has surprised even us," said Barket. “It proves that these supports—and more than one way to access them—are needed now more than ever.”
Need help or know someone who does? Call or text 800-783-0607 to be connected for free and confidentially to a Crisis Line Specialist 24/7. Family members or friends can also reach out to the hotline on another’s behalf, and Spanish-speaking Crisis Line Specialists and Language Line interpreter services are also available.
Support for this program was provided by the County’s Public Health Impact Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which aims to address critical community health improvement needs and reduce health disparities.
For more information on Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA) and the Youth Mental Health projects funded by this grant, visit www.t-mha.org.