The United States launched its first nationwide three-digit mental health hotline on Saturday. Anyone having suicidal thoughts or other mental health emergencies can dial 988 for immediate help from a mental health pro.
Instead of calling 911 for someone who is having a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, the United States has established a new 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline specifically dedicated to those who need quick access to a trained mental health professional, NPR reports.
“If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there,” US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, said at a recent press briefing. “988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.”
The federal government provided over $280 million in funding to establish the nationwide hotline by allocating money to states to help create the system, the Associated Press reported.
The new system helps by having an easy-to-remember number for people dealing with mental-health-related emergencies. A significant difference between calling 911 is that the 988 number will provide people suffering from these issues immediate access to trained mental health counselors no matter where they are in the country.
Mental health advocates and lawmakers see the new system as an opportunity to transform the mental health care system as a whole by making behavioral health care something that is easily accessible everywhere throughout the US.
While some states already have comprehensive mental health crisis systems in place, others have a long way to go. The new 988 system seeks to provide mobile mental health crisis teams that can be sent to people’s homes. Additionally, some areas will have emergency medical centers that are similar to urgent care clinics but dedicated to mental health.
The 911 system wasn’t set up to address mental health care, and there are many problems inherent in that, such as waiting for hours in an emergency room or days to get care.
Worse, mental health patients often interact with law enforcement which, according to statistics, spends about 20 percent of their time on mental health-related calls. But interactions between law enforcement and mental health patients sometimes end with traumatic, tragic, or fatal results. Last year, 2 million people with serious mental health issues were booked in jail.
The new 988 system is designed specifically to avoid these issues by providing immediate access to professionals specifically trained to handle mental health crisis situations.