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Excepted from “The 988 Mental Health Hotline Is Coming. Is America Ready?” from US News and World Report
988, the mental health equivalent of 911, is about to launch across the United States.
Beginning July 16, a new 988 number will be available 24/7 for Americans dealing with a mental health crisis. It’s akin to 911, long used to get help for medical emergencies.
The new code will replace the 10-digit number currently used to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which was established in 2005. Health officials expect the easy-to-remember 988 to spur a surge in calls.
The trouble is, few jurisdictions are ready for that, according to the new study, by the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp.
“At the service level, the 988 transition is a simple number change,” said Ryan McBain, a RAND policy researcher who co-led the study. But on the ground, McBain said, it’s a different story.
For one, local crisis centers need enough counselors to handle any influx of calls. Beyond that, some callers will need additional in-person help.
Yet, the study found, many jurisdictions lack such resources. It surveyed 180 state, regional and county health officials, and found that only half said their jurisdiction had short-term “crisis stabilization” services to which callers could be directed.
Even fewer — 28% — had urgent care units that could be dispatched to people in urgent need. Meanwhile, only 22% had call centers that could schedule mental health appointments on behalf of people who wanted them.
On top of those shortfalls, most local hotlines did not offer text or online chat options. That’s a key gap, McBain said, since teenagers and young adults often prefer those modes of communication.
Overall, McBain said, the findings confirm the concerns of many mental health experts: Jurisdictions have not had the time or resources to prepare for the 988 rollout.
The 988 code was authorized by Congress in 2020, with the intent of giving Americans an easier way to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline is a network of almost 200 crisis centers throughout the United States. When people call the national number, they are connected with the center closest to them to speak with a trained counselor and, if needed, get help finding local resources.
“It’s when it comes to referral to local services that things will get more complicated,” said Trestman, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Healthcare Systems and Financing.
To read the full article, visit US News and World Report.
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