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Central Coast nonprofits team up to revamp mental health hotline, add texting service

Volunteers take calls at the Central Coast Hotline office.
Courtesy of Transitions Mental Health Association
Volunteers take calls at the Central Coast Hotline office.

The Central Coast Hotline is a phone bank run by volunteers that aims to help people experiencing mental health crises in San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties.

Now, two nonprofits are teaming up to revamp that hotline, turning it into a modern call center and adding a 24/7 texting service aimed especially at younger people in the two counties.

The hotline fields about 10,000 calls a year, but staff say less than 1% of those calls are from people under 21 — even while recent data seem to indicate more and more young people are experiencing mental health issues.

Michael Kaplan is with Transitions Mental Health Association, a San Luis Obispo-based nonprofit that manages the hotline. He said one reason for that statistic is that younger people are more hesitant to pick up the phone and call someone than their older counterparts.

“Our educated guess is that they’d rather be texting," Kaplan said.

Kaplan said it’s important for young people to have access to an accessible crisis line, especially with the stress of the pandemic potentially making existing mental health issues worse.

“[They can] maybe even have a casual conversation, by text or by phone, about what they’re feeling and what they might do about it. We want to make that as accessible as possible," Kaplan said.

With that in mind, Transitions partnered with Must! Charities, a North County organization that’s investing $546,000 into the hotline’s remodel over the next three years. The money will go towards new call center equipment, the texting service, a new building and more.

“We’ve felt for a couple of years now that we really should be offering texting as a legitimate component of the service, but we needed help to be able to do that," Kaplan said.

Becky Gray is the executive director of Must! Charities. She said hearing about and researching the decline in mental health in young people over the last few years got the organization thinking about what could be done locally.

“It really just piqued our interest of, ‘What are we doing wrong here, and how do we help? How do we come alongside this community, and really pour into and help solve issues or potential issues?’”

Transitions and Must! Charities started talking about ways to collaborate about seven years ago, but only recently came to the conclusion that revamping the hotline was the right project for both organizations.

“The call center, I think, is 30 years old. So it’s a little bit antiquated, the system. So I’m super stoked that we actually have the ability to bring them up to a 21st-century call center," Gray said.

The Central Coast Hotline serves all of San Luis Obispo County and Northern Santa Barbara County. Their number is (800) 783-0607, and the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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