You Can Now Dial 988 for Mental Health Emergencies

When there is an emergency like a car accident or a house fire, we all know to dial 9-1-1 to be instantly connected to lifesaving services from police and medics to the fire department.
But many calls that get answered by 9-1-1 each year are mental health emergencies requiring a different kind of specialized training. That’s training that requires mental health professionals.

That’s where 9-8-8 comes in, and it has officially launched. 

According to the Associated Press (AP), the federal government has spent $280 million across the country to help states address a growing need for mental health services.
These services include mobile mental health crisis units that can be dispatched to homes as well as emergency mental health centers.
It works in much the same way a physical health problem like a broken leg or a heart attack gets treated as a traditional hospital. 

“This is one of the most exciting things that has happened” in mental health care, Dr. Brian Hepburn, a psychiatrist who heads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, told the AP

But even though the 9-8-8 phone number has officially launched, it doesn’t mean that everyone knows about it and will use it.

Hepburn told the AP that he doesn’t think the launch will be as simple as “the flick of a switch. It’s going to take a number of years in order for us to be able to reach everybody across the country.” 

Until its launch, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was the go-to for mental health crises.

That network has over 200 centers across the nation and is staffed by trained counselors. In 2020, the hotline took 2.4 million calls, and the old number, 1-800-273-8255, will still work alongside the new 9-8-8 number, especially while the new system grows. 

During the protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder, many called to “defund the police,” which was a rallying cry to create a system to deal specifically with mental health issues in public spaces.

Finger touch number on smartphone to make a call, close up

It doesn’t always help to dispatch the police who are trained to deal with violent criminals.  

It is also not fair to the police to have to rely on them to deal with a growing national mental health problem.

Creating a system in which trained professionals can quickly diffuse a situation and get a person the appropriate mental health services they need frees our police up to their jobs better.

And it may even lead to fewer violent interactions between the police and those suffering from a mental health episode. 

“One of the goals of 988 is to ensure that people get the help that they need when they need it, where they need it.

And so, when a person calls 988, they can expect to have a conversation with a trained, compassionate crisis counselor who will talk with them about what they’re experiencing,” Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the administrator of SAMHSA, told CNN.

“Some of the goals is to, where possible, minimize unnecessary contact or connection with police departments when what a person needs is connecting with either a mobile crisis worker or anyone within the mental health and behavioral health system of care,” she said.

To use 9-8-8, simply dial or text the 9-8-8 number to be connected to a trained counselor.

You can also text 9-8-8 if you cannot speak. Veterans can dial 9-8-8 and press 1 to reach the Veteran Crisis Line. 

On Saturday, Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that operates the lifeline on behalf of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), launched the 988 dialing code available to everyone across the United States.
To learn more about their services or to inquire about how you can help, check out their website here


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