Here at We ❤️ Health Literacy HQ, we’re all about making it easier for folks to protect their health. So imagine our excitement when we heard about 988, the new 3-digit phone number for emergency mental health support that went live on July 16, 2022.
988 replaces the complex 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number that people previously had to dial to get help for themselves or others during a mental health crisis. But it’s more than that: The new number is part of a strategy to improve mental health services across the country, which includes investing in a network of local crisis centers and national call centers staffed with mental health professionals.
And we don’t have to tell you, dear readers, that such investments are desperately needed. Currently, many people who are dealing with or witnessing a mental health emergency call 911. This often lands people who need crisis services in a hospital emergency room — or worse, behind bars. About 2 million people with serious mental health problems are booked in jail every year after confrontations with law enforcement, even though the vast majority pose no threat to public safety. This is a huge disservice to people who need help.
It’s worth noting that 988 certainly can’t fix these systemic issues overnight. Some mental health advocates have called for more transparent communication about how 988 will interact with police and emergency medical services. Still, the new number is an important step toward making mental health support more accessible in this country.
So the next time you’re writing about mental health, be sure to include info about 988. You can tell your readers that:
- Calling or texting 988 connects you to a suicide and crisis call center, no matter where you’re calling from (there’s also a live chat at 988lifeline.org)
- Mental health professionals are available 24/7 to offer counseling and connect you to local resources if needed
- You can call for yourself, if you’re worried about a loved one, or if you witness something you think involves a person having a mental health crisis
Learn more about 988 and help us spread the word!
The bottom line: We have a (really) long way to go to improve mental health services in the United States — but the new 988 crisis number is a step in the right direction.
Tweet about it: The new #988Lifeline offers #MentalHealth crisis counseling and connects callers to local resources. Be sure to include it in relevant #HealthComm materials, says @CommunicateHlth: https://bit.ly/3BDSPa7 #HealthLiteracy
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