988 — New Crisis Phone and Text line goes live

988 — New Crisis Phone and Text line goes live

People in a mental health or behavioral crisis can call or text 988, a three-digit national replacement for local suicide hotlines and other helplines. 

It’s the first step in a long process to improve crisis-response systems across the U.S. While questions have been raised about whether the hotlines are ready to go nationwide, operators in Washington state say they’ve been able to ramp up hiring and feel prepared for the launch. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, a bill passed and signed into law in 2020, required states to launch 988 as a parallel system to the 911 emergency line. Washington state went one step further, and the following year passed a bill to fund and build new infrastructure for an integrated crisis system using a tax on phone and internet lines. Now the goal is to wrangle the many existing regional phone lines for peers, veterans, youth, tribes and other resources into one connected super-system. 

People can call for themselves or family, and no crisis is too small; residents can call about their mental health, substance use, concerns for a neighbor or friend, or to connect to other resources like peer lines or chat and text lines for teens. Help is available 24/7. Trained staff will provide an empathetic ear and connect callers to resources, including screening for higher-level crises like suicide attempts. Calls are in English and Spanish, with other languages available through interpreters. Text and chat are English-only currently.

Local suicide hotlines will continue operating for the expected future, though may merge eventually. Michelle McDaniel, the CEO of Crisis Connections and a member of the Crisis Response Improvement Strategy Committee, a group of leaders tasked with planning the rollout in Washington, said her team is ready — they had a soft launch on July 5. 

The call-center hub will connect the various hotlines, tribal lines and emergency-services dispatch centers into one platform. Mobile crisis teams and designated crisis responders could be sent out if necessary, and crisis staff would also see real-time availability of beds in their region — tools that would greatly connect the crisis system that is currently siloed among many networks. Currently, the 988 system is set back by a technical issue, though. Callers will be routed to their phone area code, meaning a caller in Washington with a Florida cellphone number, for example, will be connected outside of the state first. The plan is to fix that and instead route callers to their actual location. “The system’s being strengthened and built, it’s just not going to happen overnight,” McDaniel explained. The next hurdle will be attracting and retaining additional staff with competitive salaries, she added.  

Full Article: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/mental-health/988-the-new-crisis-phone-and-text-line-goes-live-this-weekend/

Mental health resources from The Seattle Times

Updated: 2022/12/30 @ 1:57 pm Tark Henderson

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