By Lindsey Shay
People experiencing a mental health crisis have a new way to reach out for help in the U.S. Now, they can simply call or text the numbers 9-8-8.
Modeled after 911, the new three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is designed to be a memorable and quick number that connects people who are suicidal or in any other mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional.
The creation of this number was a joint effort by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The secretary for the federal Department of Health and Human Services stated at a recent press briefing about the new hotline, “If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there, 988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.” (NPR).
The new number is intended to make calling for help more straightforward. Moreover, the number serves as a monumental step towards making mental health a priority in the political realm and making mental health services more accessible to all Americans.
988 will serve to fill a gaping hole in mental health crisis care. Because of the length and difficulty of the current hotline number, most people experiencing mental health crises end up contacting 911 in times of emergency. However, 911 was not foundationally designed to address mental health needs (National Institute of Mental Health). Those in mental health crises who end up calling 911 either wind up in an emergency room, where they may not get the help they desperately are seeking for hours or even days with overcrowded ER services currently. Moreover, their interactions with law enforcement officers, who are not equipped to treat mental health crises, can lead to tragedy and trauma. (National Institute of Mental Health)
In agreement among mental health advocates, law enforcement, lawmakers, and communities, the hope is that 988 will be a safer and more accessible alternative. “The national rollout of 988 is a step in the right direction to encourage people to seek mental health support,” said Blanca N. Garcia, LCSW-S, director of mental health resources at Grant Halliburton Foundation. “Assigning a three-digit number like 911 makes it easier to remember, and it places mental health on the same level as physical health. We call 911 when we’re worried someone is having a heart attack, and I hope the 988 launch encourages more people to take action when someone is having a mental health crisis.” The Grant Halliburton Foundation’s mission serves to help teens and their families recognize the signs of distress or suicidal crisis and how to lead them to help.
The hotline will connect callers directly to a network of trained mental crisis counselors, as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline currently does. The Lifeline will remain an active number, but calls will be routed to the 988 call base.
With this new hotline, states have started to build upon their ability to offer on-the-ground and face-to-face emergency mental health care to those in a crisis.
988 creates new hope for those suffering from mental health crises and opens a plethora of new doors to the communities of mental health advocates across the country who seek to expand mental health resources.
For more information:
988 Prevention Page: Lifeline (988lifeline.org)
National Institute of Mental Health Suicide Prevention: NIMH » Suicide Prevention (nih.gov)
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