My colleagues in the mental health professions have often lamented the lack of emergency mental health assistance available to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. We have had to rely on services available through 911 which, while able to respond to an emergency, are not trained mental health professionals and therefore not able to provide the level of response needed in these situations. When someone with a mental emergency does not get the care they need, this greatly increases the risk.
I am happy to say that mental health care in the U.S. has just taken a major step forward. Are you aware of the new 988 mental help emergency number?
This past July 16, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line became available nationwide. Line 988, which replaces the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is a major step forward in providing much needed emergency mental health support.
Finally, Mental Heath Support is Three Digits Away
With the availability of the 988 line anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is just three digits away from help. For mental health professionals, this is a dream come true.
The purpose of the 988 service is to provide access to a trained counselor who, first and foremost, will provide a listening ear. The professionals staffing 988 are also trained to assess the caller’s mental health needs, to provide emotional support, and to help them to get connected with mental health resources in their community. They are trained to handle emergencies and help to assure that the person calling them receives the help they need.
This is truly groundbreaking! At long last, help is available 24 hours a day to someone in a mental health or suicide crisis. One can also text 988 if they prefer to chat that way.
This is a new service. As with any new service, the 988 line is a work in progress. As it gets underway and usage increases, any shortcomings in, for example, training and coverage, will be addressed. Initial publicity on 988, outlining its intended approach to providing emergency services, has given me reason to be hopeful.
By the way, 988 is separate from 911. As an emergency line, 911 still provides access to public safety entities including law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders. However, 988 and 911 will work in coordination to ensure that individuals in crisis will receive the appropriate assistance. And if you are familiar with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, that number is still active and available.
So please join me in celebrating the availability of 988! A mental health lifeline! Let’s all spread the word.
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. His website is JustGotDiagnosed.com.