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Starting in mid-July, an emergency hotline that is the equivalent of 911 for mental health will be active in the United States. The number is 988 and will connect callers to National Security Line for Suicide Preventionwhich currently operates under the number 800-273-8255.
The new number, which goes into effect on July 16, is part of a $ 282 million government effort for suicide prevention and crisis assistance services. Number 988 was designated by Congress in 2020 to be managed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has been in existence since 2005.
But what exactly is 988 and how does all this work? Here’s what you need to know.
What is 988 and what will it do?
Technically, 988 doesn’t provide a new service – the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been around for decades. However, switching to an easy-to-remember number should increase calls for people who need help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline currently helps thousands of people work in mental health crisis situations every day, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The way the number works is simple – you call, text or chat through it and you are connected with a mental health professional who can help you. The Lifeline is comprised of a network of over 200 local and state-funded crisis centers in the United States with calls routed to the nearest center based on area code.
These calls are answered by local counselors who are familiar with the community’s mental health resources and can provide referrals to local services, Lifeline explains. “The counselor will listen, offer support, and work with the caller to develop a plan for safety and recovery,” says William Zimmermann, LCSW, program manager at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care and New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline, a line of national life back-center top
Why is it necessary?
Mental health experts applaud this move and stress its importance. “The potential advantage of the 988 is huge,” says Zimmermann. “During a crisis, quick access to support and care can improve outcomes.”
Having an easy-to-remember three-digit number for mental health emergencies “changes the perception” of what to do in a mental health crisis, says Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., assistant professor of psychology at NYU Langone Health and co. -conductor of the podcast Mind in View. “It sets the tone that you can have a mental health emergency and it’s as important as having a physical emergency too,” she says.
It also helps break the stigma that’s often associated with mental health problems, she says. “Prove this is for anyone and everyone,” says Gallagher. “If you’re struggling, call, we’re here for you. This is what this says.
Accessibility matters, points out Kelly Green, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the Penn Center for the Prevention of Suicide. “This is for anyone with suicidal thoughts or emotional distress,” she says. “If you are worried about a friend or loved one and are unsure of the best way to support them, you don’t have to wait for suicidal thoughts or distress to be severe. You can call now.
A three-digit number, in particular, is easy to remember and is critical, says Arianna Galligher, LISW-S, associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “If a person can’t remember the phone number to call, he won’t call, so he won’t be able to access the support he needs,” she says. Clinical Psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., author of Family Fit: find your balance in life, states that the three-digit number is “a fantastic idea, because when people are in trouble, their memory is always affected and remembering numbers not used frequently is impossible.”
While people are often asked to call 911 in a mental health crisis, having a 988 number directs them to someone who is actually trained in the area they need help with versus law enforcement in general who may not know. how to react correctly, says Zimmermann. “988 will provide an alternative to law enforcement as the primary intervention for mental health crises,” she says.
Number 988 is expected to be huge for mental health – so big that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline plans to wait a year to advertise it to make sure they have the infrastructure to support all calls, Green says. But, if you need mental health support, it’s good to know that simple three digits will connect you to help as soon as possible.
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