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A Central Coast mental health hotline is getting “higher intensity” calls during the holidays

Downtown San Luis Obispo during the winter.
Gabriela Fernandez
Downtown San Luis Obispo during the winter.

The holiday season, typically a time of joy and celebration, has taken a darker turn for some people— and they are seeking support from a hotline.

The Central Coast Hotline is a 24-hour call center for mental health support and suicide prevention. While the overall number of calls hasn’t increased during the holidays, Program Manager Melanie Barket notes a disturbing trend.

“Calls are of higher intensity and higher lethality during this time,” Barket said. “That's what I've noticed in the past few years.”

A survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that 89% of US adults experience stress during the holidays, citing reasons like family conflicts and financial pressure.

“The expectations of this time of year can really weigh heavily on people,” Barket added.

The hotline is operated by Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA), a San Luis Obispo-based nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health support.

Megan Boaz-Alvarez, a therapist and clinical director for TMHA, recommends prioritizing self-care as a protective measure against holiday depression.

“Even if you just squeeze in a 15-minute walk at lunch, that can help support your sense of wellbeing,” Boaz-Alvarez said.

Boaz-Alvarez also suggested getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol intake and creating gratitude lists— but she emphasized seeking support from loved ones as her most crucial advice.

“One of the best protective factors we have, whether we're talking about risk of suicide or other mental health issues, is a sense of connection and people feeling like they're part of a community,” Boaz-Alvarez said.

The Central Coast Hotline offers confidential mental health guidance from trained volunteers at 800-783-0607. Barket estimates that the hotline receives around 10,000 calls annually.

TMHA also provides other services, including free therapy for individuals having trouble accessing mental health support.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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