The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is launching what it’s calling the “Statewide Peer Warmline” starting on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The line will work in conjunction with the state’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by giving callers the option to speak with a peer support specialist – in other words, people who’ve gone through the same thing that the callers are going through.

Those answering the phone will be people who previously faced mental illness and/or substance use disorder and who can offer advice based on their “lived experience.”

According to a press release from the state announcing the new service, the people answering the Warmline are specialists who will offer non-clinical support to those in crisis.

 “Their unique expertise helps reduce stigma while strengthening overall engagement in care,” it states.

 Just like the well-known 988 number, the Warmline is open 24/7.

Starting on February 20, those who need help and want to speak with a peer can call 1-855-PEERS NC (855-733-7762).  Those who call 988 will have the option of connecting with the Peer Warmline if they would rather talk to someone who has been through a similar experience.

The statewide Peer Warmline is being staffed by Promise Resource Network –  a peer-run organization based in Mecklenburg County. That group was awarded the contract after a competitive public bidding process by the state.

NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said this will be a valuable new tool for promoting behavioral health in the state.

“When you’re in a tough spot, sometimes the best person to talk with is a person who has had similar experiences,” Kinsley stated in the press release. “The Peer Warmline expands our behavioral health crisis system in North Carolina toward the goal of meeting people where they are and helping prevent crises in the first place.”

According to the NCDHHS 988 Performance Dashboard, more than 40 percent of 988 callers are repeat callers who find the line helpful.

State mental health officials say this type of service has shown to improve outcomes for people in crisis by “reducing hospitalizations and emergency department visits, reducing the recurrence of behavioral health symptoms, and increasing communication and collaboration between clinical care teams, individuals in crisis and their families.”

Those who speak Spanish can now connect directly to Spanish-speaking crisis counselors by calling 988 and pressing option 2.