Jefferson County expands mental health support line

By Steve Sharp:

JEFFERSON — A non-crisis telephone support line for callers with mental health conditions, operated by people who have their own experience with similar concerns, opened this week in Jefferson County.

The new “Peer Support Line” is co-sponsored by NAMI Waukesha and Jefferson County.

“Jefferson County is funding the expansion of this awesome service,” Jefferson County Human Services Director Kathi Cauley said Tuesday, noting that $20,000 in county funding is being spent this year on the project.

There are not many such programs in the State of Wisconsin, she pointed out.

“We have never had this service before,” Cauley said. “There are only two or three in the state.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this,” she added.

Cauley said this will be a valuable service because it will give callers the opportunity to talk with others who have experienced similar mental health issues and struggles, and have gone on to lead meaningful, productive lives.

“Talking with someone with ‘lived’ experience has been shown to increase hope for those who are having mental health symptoms,” Cauley said. “It also helps people believe and envision that recovery truly does happen. I also think it decreases people’s isolation and, in the big picture, decreases the stigma of mental illness.”

Cauley said she thinks the new option will help people who are struggling, lack resources to access treatment or are in treatment by having coaching and support available outside of normal business hours.

“We will continue to have a worker available 24/7, but the number of crisis calls continues to increase,” she said. “We see this as a great partnership.”

According NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), the After Hours Peer Support Line is “a specific phone line where people who are experiencing emotional difficulties can call in and speak to a peer specialist for support, guidance or just to have someone with whom to talk and explore ideas together.”

Sometimes callers might need to be referred to more comprehensive supports;, however, Cauley said, more often, peers are able to provide the support that callers need to move forward with their days in a positive, recovery-oriented direction.

The Peer Support Line is not for crisis calls. If people need immediate support, they should call 911 in emergencies.

Individuals living with mental conditions who would like to talk with a peer, need help solving a problem or want resource information are invited to call. Calls are limited to 15 minutes. 

“This is so everyone has an opportunity to talk with a peer specialist,” NAMI stated.

Calls also are limited to two per evening and organizers of the program request that people wait at least one hour between these calls.

The number to call is (262) 409-2752, with hours being Saturday and Sunday, from 2 to 6 p.m., and Monday, Thursday and Friday, all 6 to 9 p.m. The peer support line does not operate on holidays.

“We are seeing more people with mental health and substance use issues,” Cauley said, noting there are “a number of issues.”

Cauley said this region of the country has an “alcohol culture.”

“Farmers and men (of a certain age) are depressed due to financial and life circumstances,” she said. “The opioid issues and more toxic stress issues from our lifestyles exist, and, yes, there is more awareness of mental health issues and the impact of trauma.”

The county’s Human Services Department almost is done with its 2018 annual report and Cauley said her department’s behavioral health programs are serving more people with every passing year. She also noted that more programs and ideas are coming to help local residents.