Man seeks to start 'warm line' in Tri-Cities

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 23, 2014 

Kevin Kennedy got a call a while back from a friend who'd come face-to-face with a distraught woman at a grocery store.

Police were summoned. While they were on the way, the friend handed the woman her phone, with Kennedy on the other end.

The Pasco man, who founded the nonprofit 5150 to Recovery, helped the woman calm down.

Her crisis was triggered when she ran into a road block trying to fill a prescription, said Kennedy, whose agency aims to educate the community about mental illness and support those who are dealing with a diagnosis.

The experience planted an idea. "It popped into my head that this could have been preempted by something like a 'warm line,' " Kennedy said. "It could have saved her heartache to call a warm line and talk to somebody who understands."

A "warm line" is a listening line people can call for support, information, suggestions and referrals.

It's not a crisis line, but is meant to be an added resource that helps people before they reach a crisis point.

The Tri-Cities doesn't have one, but Kennedy is trying to change that.

His vision is for a mental health warm line staffed by trained volunteers who've experienced mental illness themselves or been touched by it through a family member -- the kind of consumer-run organization that's becoming more prevalent around the country.

Ed Thornbrugh, Benton-Franklin Human Services director, recently talked with commissioners from both counties about consumer-run model and the idea of contracting with Kennedy's group for a warm line in the Tri-City area.

A proposal could head to commissioners for consideration soon.

Thornbrugh noted that details of Kennedy's idea still need to be worked out. But he said he supports the concept.

"Any time you have an additional resource that's supportive, that gives people an opportunity to talk things through and not let things develop to a crisis or emergency, it's a good thing," Thornbrugh said.

Kennedy is hopeful the service could be up and running this year.

He knows what it's like to deal with mental illness. The 40-year-old was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 18 and struggled for years before becoming stable.

He coached college track and holds an MBA degree, he said, noting he doesn't fit the stereotype of someone who's dealt with mental illness. "Mental illness doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care about income level, status, education level," he said, adding that many are touched by mental illness in some way.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says almost 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition each year, with mental illness affecting the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children in the U.S.

To donate or learn more about Kennedy's nonprofit or the warm line, call 851-3187 or email kevsterxc4083@yahoo.com.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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