.New Mental Health Distress Hotline Launches Nationwide

Over the weekend, the federal government launched a new, easy-to-remember phone number for people seeking mental health support as part of an effort to improve the government’s crisis support services.

The new number, 988, was created following the passage of federal legislation in 2020. The hope is that the new system will prove more memorable than the 10-digit suicide prevention numbers which have been used until now. 

The change comes in response to at least two factors: increasing rates of suicide and mental health crises, and efforts in some parts of the country to split requests for mental health assistance from the conventional emergency service providers, primarily police and fire departments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates increased 30% between 2000 and 2018. In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-14 and 25-34.

Between April and June 2021, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline answered 89% of the 66,343 calls it received from Californians. However, calls to the new line may increase significantly as Americans learn about the system and some 911 calls are diverted. 

A December 2021 appropriations report from the Department of Health and Human Services projects that nationwide call volume “is expected to increase to 7.6 million by the end of the first full year of 988 implementation in July 2023, more than a two-fold increase over 2020 volume.”

Of course, the new number is just the start of improving mental health services. It remains to be seen whether California will have the resources to effectively respond to an increase in requests for services.

In Sonoma County, the switch follows another recent change in local responses to mental health services. Following the Black Lives Matters protests in 2020, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma County have launched mental health crisis teams who respond to certain 911 calls instead of police.

While it’s in the early stages, the pivot makes a lot of sense, since interaction with police can prove fatal for a person experiencing a mental health crisis. In 2015, a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with untreated mental illnesses were 16 times more likely to be killed in an encounter with police than a member of the general population.

Will Carruthershttp://www.wrcarruthers.com
Will Carruthers is the news editor of the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian. Email tips to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Carruthers_W.

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