Chicago — Those experiencing a mental health crisis have a new way to get help in the U.S. — text or call 988.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is modeled after 911 and is designed to be a quick way to connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained professional, according to NPR.org.
Here’s what you need to know about the new system:
It fills a big gap in mental health crisis care
The majority of people experiencing a mental health crisis end up calling 911, but that system wasn’t set up to address mental health needs. Advocates hope the new system will become a safer and more effective alternative.
"Unlike other medical emergencies, mental health crises overwhelmingly result in a law enforcement response," said psychologist Benjamin Miller, president of Well Being Trust. "If you look at the data from the police, about 20% of their total staff time is spent responding and transporting individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis."
988 connects caller to a network of trained counselors
988 callers will be connected to a network of more than 200 local crisis centers around the country. They will be connected to a center closest to them and if a local center is too busy, they will be routed to one of 16 backup centers around the U.S.
It could spur communities to develop more in-person crisis support
States have started to build up their capacity to offer in-person services to people who call in a crisis.
"Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work," said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the HHS assistant secretary for SAMHSA.
The system’s launch is being supported by federal funds
To prepare for the rise in demand, the government has made significant investments into the 988 network. The Biden administration has dedicated $432 million toward building the capacity of local and backup call centers. The centers have also been able to hire new staff.
This could be the start of a new era but there’s more to be done
More time and resources are needed for 988 to reach its ultimate goal, advocates told NPR, noting they are still excited about the new system.
“We've got to get the training wheels on it and get it out of the garage and start pedaling, knowing that this is a process," said Becky Stoll, vice president for crisis and disaster management at Centerstone. "We can keep maturing it and getting it towards being adequately capable in all areas."