New 988 Helpline (Arriving in 2022) to Serve as a 911 for Mental Health Crises
More help is coming, in 2022.
It’s been suggested that a separate recourse for people in a mental health crisis may prove to be a life-saving alternative.
In July 2020, the Federal Communications Commission voted to make “988” official. Those three numbers are shortening access to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK). Scheduled to go live by July 2022, it’ll serve as an alternate 911, a number for people to dial when experiencing a mental health crisis. (People should still dial 911 in cases of life-or-death emergencies.)
In part 988 was developed because:
- Three digits are easier to remember than 10, especially in a time of crisis; and
- The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been receiving more calls in recent years.
Funding is also included to help accommodate a higher volume of calls.
It’s been suggested 988 may be a helpful resource for the Black community, which already has less access to mental health care. Fewer treatment options mean more mental health problems go untreated. (Addressing issues earlier tends to produce better mental health outcomes.)
Blacks still are arrested and incarcerated at higher rates, including cases where a person may be coping with mental illness rather than taking part in a premeditated criminal act. For a prisoner sentenced for something linked to their mental illness, their time behind bars is mostly punishment and very little treatment. (Plus correctional facilities have become the largest provider of mental health services in the United States.)
Calling 911 when there’s a mental health emergency doesn’t always end well for the patient, either. Police training doesn’t cover a lot of mental health treatment. By making it possible for a person in crisis to call an easy-to-remember mental health line, that could defuse the situation and help them find treatment options.
A 988 option may truly prove life-saving since sometimes a phone call and a conversation can be enough to ward off a crisis.
Know the Signs
Knowing the signs that someone may be struggling with a mental illness can make it easier to decide on getting help. Symptoms vary among mental disorders, but some common red flags include:
- Excess worry and fear
- Feeling extremely down
- Struggling to concentrate or learn
- Mood shifts, especially wild highs and stark lows
- Sudden, intense, or lingering bouts of anger
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Using alcohol or drugs to excess
- Unexplainable aches and pains
- Talks or thoughts of suicide
These are just a few of the warning signs. If you suspect you or a loved one is in crisis, reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — nami.org/help — or call 800-950-NAMI (6264).
npr.org – New Law Creates 988 Hotline For Mental Health Emergencies
nami.org – Black Mental Health and the Importance of 988 Legislation
npr.org – Most Inmates With Mental Illness Still Wait For Decent Care
theatlantic.com – They Called for Help. They’d Always Regret It.
nami.org – Warning Signs and Symptoms
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Mental Health Issues Facing the Black Community