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Re-imagine our response to mental health crises: 988
Mona McCalley-Whitters and Emily Blomme
Jul. 10, 2022 12:30 pm
On July 16, the nation is taking a huge step to support those experiencing a mental health or suicidal crisis with the rollout of the three-digit 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, an extension of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The goal of 988 is to have “someone to talk to, someone to respond, and somewhere to go.”
The new three-digital dial code will increase ease of access to a large network of crisis centers across the country, including Foundation 2 Crisis Services and CommUnity Crisis Services and Foodbank in Iowa. These agencies are both nationally accredited, have a combined 100-plus years of crisis expertise, and will provide support over the phone, text, and chat to all Iowans.
Historically, 911 has been the default contact for emergency situations. The 988 line echoes traditional 911 services for mental health needs; it is an excellent entry point to the crisis system and allows for safe, supportive care that meets the needs of the person in crisis. People also can dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
So, what happens when you call? A trained counselor will provide crisis counseling, conduct a suicide screening and assessment, help you identify immediate needs, and connect you with other supports in your area such as mobile crisis outreach, access centers, or referrals to ongoing services. Over 80 percent of callers can receive the support they need over the phone, text, or chat. With adequate funding, bulked-up infrastructure, and increased workforce, we’ll be able to grow 988 into a strong crisis network that provides rapid, confidential, non-judgmental support 24 hours a day, regardless of your location in the state.
The 988 lifeline is a historic opportunity to decrease avoidable hospitalization, be more strategic with law enforcement resources, address disparity in who gets help, and decrease suicide. However, maximizing the potential of 988 will take all of us, especially policymakers. Mental health crises do not discriminate and can happen to anyone, at any time. We need immediate, 24/7 crisis management options that do not depend on location, skin color, or socioeconomic status.
Join us in advocating for compassionate mental health crisis intervention and a well-designed crisis system in Iowa. We can make this happen by bringing together organizations, policymakers, and community leaders to discuss how to improve crisis response. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website (nami.org) or reimaginecrisis.org/crisis-response for ways to improve crisis care.
If you, or someone close to you, experiences a crisis, we encourage you to call, text, or chat 988 after July 16, or reach out to Your Life Iowa, the statewide crisis line at 855-581-8111 or www.yourlifeiowa.org
Mona McCalley-Whitters Ph.D. is executive director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Linn County. Emily Blomme is chief executive officer of Foundation 2 Crisis Services in Cedar Rapids.
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