October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and the state of California just announced that it’s introducing the first toll-free statewide mental health line for non-emergency emotional support and referrals.
Dr. Ken Pope is an internationally-known and highly-regarded psychologist who said, “Once again California leads the nation in responding creatively to the needs of its residents. Making free mental health support available by phone to all who are struggling will likely catch problems in their earliest stages, when they can be more easily addressed. This may help countless people lead happier, more meaningful, more fulfilling lives. It may also save money that would otherwise have been needed for more serious interventions, like hospitalization.”
Dr. Jeffrey Sonis, a physician and associate professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also commented: “Anytime you do screening for any type of illness, there are harms of false positives and false negatives. A false positive would be if someone who calls the hotline is told that they need mental health care, and then are found to not have mental illness when they are seen by a mental health professional.
There might be some unnecessary cost as a result of those false positives, but I don’t think that there are really any harms.”
Dr. Sonis, continued, “A false negative would be someone who is told by the hotline professional that they’re just upset and don’t need mental health care, when in fact they do. Someone like that might delay seeking appropriate mental health care. I’m guessing that the rate of this would be fairly low, but it’s probably not zero.”
Despite some potential problems, enthusiasts are likely going to say, “The helpline is a good start,” “Something is better than nothing,” and “Where else will people go?” The helpline is an innovative way to destigmatize seeking support for mental health issues.