For survivors of mental illness, the world can sometimes seem like a cold place.
Warm Line on a lonely night.
From left, regional Warm Line coordinator Michael Clark, Parry Sound peer support worker Susan Adams, executive director Shana Calixte and seated, Parry Sound peer support worker Wesley Baxter.
Charlene Peck photo
On March 30, the Warm Line, a peer-run telephone service, staffed by and empowering individuals with lived experience of mental illness, was launched in Parry Sound by the Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA).
“This is a great way for those living with mental illness to reach out to their peers; it’s a completely non-judgmental environment and totally confidential.” says Shana Calixte, NISA’s executive director.
“The Warm Line aims to empower consumers and survivors of mental health survivors, both as callers and operators, and provides valuable job training experience.”
The Warm Line is open to people with personal lived experience, as well as their families, friends, loved ones and caregivers, or anyone else who needs a listening and supportive ear. Calixte says the program is part of NISA’s work to promote a new perspective on mental health.
“When our kidneys fail, we are quick to seek medical attention. When we develop a cancerous tumour in the liver, breast or prostate, we are quick to seek medical attention. But when we experience problems with our brains, we grow afraid and often try to ignore or dismiss the symptoms. We may withdraw, becoming isolated from our communities. Often, we feel ashamed and guilty,” she explains. “We need to re-think mental health – the brain is simply another organ in the body and sometimes things go awry.”
The Warm Line is a project of NISA, a member-driven and consumer-run organization that offers people with lived experience of mental illness opportunities to reintegrate into the community.
All staff, volunteers and members have lived experience. NISA is built on the premise that consumers and survivors of mental health services are intelligent, creative and competent, and can make a valuable contribution to society if given the opportunity to do so.
Number to call
Community members may reach Warm Line operators at 1-866-856-9276 (WARM) nightly – including weekends – from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. in Parry Sound, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins.
Newly hired regional Warm Line support worker in Parry Sound, Wesley Baxter discovered the Regional Warm Line at a troubling time in his life, when he was in the early stages of battling mental illness.
“The Warm Line has always been there for me in that respect,” he says. “There were and still are, people I can just talk to. It’s important for people with mental illness to be able to talk about what’s going on with them. Often, it’s enough to just talk for 15 minutes before you start to realize that you’re not alone – there are other people out there who have gone through or are currently going through struggles similar to your own.”
The Warm Line is also there as a pre-crisis support intervention for families and friends of people with mental illness, who may be having a hard time understanding what is going on with their loved one.
“There are so many people who need someone to talk to, and the hope is that every time they pick up the phone, automatically they are reaching out,” explains Susan Adams, another of the three Warm Line peer support workers hired in Parry Sound.
“That’s a huge first step to make that phone call. Sometimes they are just lonely. Sometimes they are pre-crisis. Maybe they are contemplating suicide and again, they are reaching out before taking that step.”
The need for the Warm Line in the community is greater than the public is aware of, she believes.
“Also, a lot of people are private and are not comfortable opening up to a professional, and may feel more comfortable with the anonymity of picking up the phone and not feeling judged,” Adams explains.
Although one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness during their lifetime according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Adams points out – there’s still that stigma – a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about mental health.
“So by offering a line people can feel comfortable on, feel they are not judged, that they can call and have a conversation, then we’ve done our job,” she adds. “We’re providing a service if we’ve offered some support.”
“The biggest step is picking up the phone and making the call,” she stresses.