New Mental Health Crisis Hotline: 988

There will be simply three phone numbers to memorize for those who are in a mental health crisis starting on Saturday: 1-800-273-8255, 1-800-273-TALK, and 1-800-273-8255. 988.

For people who are experiencing mental health emergencies, a new federal phone line will be launched this weekend in California and across the country. Advocacy groups say it will make it easier for people in distress to contact the state’s 13 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline locations.

Nearly two years have passed since the inception of this scheme.

Trump signed a bipartisan law making 988 the nation’s official telephone number in October of that year. This law also allowed states to levy new fees on phone lines to pay for call centers and mental health crisis services. Only four states have been able to do this so far, and California may soon join them.

For this reason, the creators of 988 envision a national revamp of the mental health delivery system in which callers can use a crisis response system that excludes the police from the mix.

Even though the federal government has been pushing for this larger structure, it is primarily still just an idea. In the meanwhile, mental health authorities in California said they want to have a clearer picture of the project’s scope and funding in the next year.

As the state allocates mental health funds and services at the county level, some fear that full-scale adoption among the state’s 58 counties may be problematic in the long run.

The state of California appears to be in pretty excellent shape compared to many other states, according to several mental health leaders.

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Le Ondra Clark Harvey, CEO of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, which includes four of the state’s 13 call centers, said, “It’s vital, it’s needed, it’s going to happen.” As soon as the “switch” is flicked, “our centers are ready to work.”

According to the latest statistics, the number of calls to the California National Suicide Prevention Lifeline contact centers increased by 67% between 2016 and 2020. According to data from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in-state call centers have been able to answer 90% of calls.

According to the statistics gathered by the organization, the in-state response rate is 52% in Vermont, 40% in Texas, and 16% in Wyoming.

When no one is available locally, calls are routed to national call centers, which may not be as conversant with local resources as local call centers.

Preparing for an onslaught of calls, Californian call centers have invested in infrastructure and training. A $20 million grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services was approved in the fall to help with this effort. The call centers will receive an additional $8 million in this year’s budget.

A tax on cell phone lines is part of a bill being considered in the legislature to help fund the scheme. Assuming it passes, yet another federal law would provide more funds for the hotline and crisis assistance.

There could be a dramatic increase in the number of calls to Sacramento-based WellSpace Health, which runs a crisis hotline that serves much of the state, in the coming months. According to him, he believes his organization will be able to handle the influx of calls and texts it is receiving as the information gets out.

After that, he’s concerned about what follows next. Suicidal callers need immediate in-person mental health help, but what if there are no mental health resources in the surrounding area? Then what if they’re located in a rural or remote area? Or have you been stranded in the snow?

According to him, “for the most part, resources are being stretched to the limit” According to Michelle Doty Cabrera, the executive director of the California Behavioral Health Directors Association, the state’s patchwork, county-level approach to mental health care means that certain counties may be able to give far less than the public expects.

However, “988 is encouraging us all to think big about the possibilities that exist,” she said.

In rural areas where mental health workers are hard to come by, the problem is even more acute. Cabrera points out that the sheriff’s department in Mono County, in the Eastern Sierra, closes between midnight and 6 a.m. every night. If the area is so sparsely inhabited, how can it afford to put in place a full-scale, 24-hour crisis system?

According to Porteus, some may benefit from taking a regional strategy. Phebe Bell, the mental health director of Nevada County, which extends from the foothills near Sacramento to the Nevada border, says that technology has its limits, as well. It will be difficult to respond quickly if her county is grouped with other counties and the nearest mobile crisis team is located 90 miles away, she said.

For mental health care, “we need a lot of money and a lot of human resources,” she noted. So, “and if we don’t, let us be clear that it isn’t going to be the same everywhere.”

Connie Draxler, acting chief deputy director of the county’s department of mental health, said psychiatric mobile response teams are already in place in Los Angeles County between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m.

A 24/7 mobile response system will be in place by the end of the month, she added, and the county expects to contract with outside suppliers to fill the remaining gaps. Part of the system’s capacity depends on the sources of money that are available.

By keeping an eye on potential legislation, counties around the state are looking for ways to help.

Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of California’s East Bay sponsored AB 988, the bill that would impose the cost, as the Miles Hall Lifeline Act in memory of a young man in her area who was slain by police while suffering from a mental health crisis, last year.

The telecommunications industry opposed the bill last year, and it was put on hold. The charge cap was reduced from 80 cents to 30 cents in the current law after months of negotiations between industry groups and the author and sponsor. The industry’s opposition has now been quashed.

The head of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, Janus Norman, says the companies he represents understand the necessity of providing mental health access.

Even if we function in a vacuum, we don’t do everything alone. “My companies are made up of people who live and work in the real world.” Mental health concerns are something that we have to deal with daily in our workplace. As a result of the pandemic, some of these issues have come to light. Our goal is to discover a way to contribute to a problem reasonably.

This year’s complete bipartisan support for a bill that Bauer-Kahan described as a “work of love” has left her “amazed.”

She said, “I’m a mother.” This is needed, and I see that we’re failing families and people who are suffering. “I get the necessity for this,” says the author.

When people of all ages need help, she says, the phone line is there for them.

California is being observed by other states.

National Alliance on Mental Illness director of state affairs Stephanie Pasternak said that adopting the law here “would be a tremendous boost” to similar initiatives around the country.

Many mental health officials in the state argue that even if the mobile phone charge is passed, they believe that the work to fundamentally alter the system is still at the very beginning of its development. In the next months, a state working committee is expected to present a more detailed proposal to the Legislature.

Tara Gamboa-Eastman, a senior advocate with the Sacramento-based Steinberg Institute, which sponsored AB 988, said, “In an ideal world when 988 launches it would be full continuity ready to go.”

That isn’t the case, she added. Despite this fact, though, she remains upbeat about the state’s approach to helping those in need. She hopes that by the year 2029, every county will have a functioning crisis response system.

‘In the long term, I do think that the parts are fitting together,’ she says.

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