Volunteer-run group in Sacramento opens mental health crisis hotline

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- Members of a Sacramento community group said they hope to make a dent in the area’s mental health needs.

Asantewaa Boykin, who has worked as a nurse in acute psychiatric care for more than a decade, launched Mental Health First. She has recruited volunteers, many with no counseling or medical background, to staff a new mental health crisis hotline.

"I'll say when I talked to one of the fire captains I said, ‘Is this crazy?’” Boykin told FOX40. “And he was like, 'Yeah, it is. But when we first started organizing and said we should get together and make sure we can fight fires it probably sounded crazy then too.'"

The fire Boykin is trying to put out is the blazing need for immediate mental health intervention, especially among the homeless and low-income communities.

Dr. Neil Flynn specializes in treating drug addiction and is one of the on-call medical directors working with M.H. First.

"It's so difficult to get psychiatric treatment in Sacramento, especially if you're poor, especially if you're on Medi-Cal," Dr. Flynn said.

Three nights a week, they take calls from the public at a reception desk in Flynn's small Transitions Clinic in Oak Park.

Volunteers get five initial hours of training designed by social workers, psychiatrists and counselors, plus training added to each shift. Since everyone in the operation is an unpaid volunteer and not an employee, Boykin said attorneys consulting with the group have told them, "Anyone that's out there is operating under good Samaritan laws."

"So perfectly legal," she explained.

No one will prescribe medicine through the call line. Instead, the real purpose is getting someone to the next productive step that keeps them safe.

“We'll come get you,” Boykin said. “We'll take you to 24-hour urgent care that is at Sacramento County down Stockton."

Whatever it takes, they want to put addressing the mental health of their neighbors first.

To reach M.H. First's hotline, call or text 916-670-4062. It will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Those who would like to learn more about M.H. First or volunteer can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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