How does 988 work? – Los Angeles Times

Help for a mental health crisis is now just three digits away: 9-8-8.

Initial data shows people are increasingly turning to a national mental health hotline, which was launched on July 16 as an easy-to-remember alternative to 911. But how does it work? And is it “friendly”?

The basics

Instead of being routed to the police, callers (or texters) are connected to compassionate listeners who are trained to talk about crises ranging from suicidal thoughts to drug addiction. You can even counsel people who aren’t in a crisis but are hoping to help a struggling friend. It’s free and staffed 24 hours a day.

“We want to ensure that we are providing effective, evidence-based care to people in a crisis, rather than providing them with care that results in them being repeatedly incarcerated, hospitalized and taken to the emergency room, as has been the case in the past The case was we addressed the crisis in this country,” said Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Before 988 went live, those seeking help had to dial a 10-digit 800 number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Calls to this number – (800) 273-TALK – will continue to be answered.

An impairment of use

In August, the hotline’s first fully operational month, its total volume — including calls, texts, and chats — increased 45% nationwide compared to the same month last year for Lifeline, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, the average time it took to respond fell from 2½ minutes to 42 seconds year over year. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, part of Health and Human Services, oversees the hotline.

Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which leads crisis call response for most of Southern California, said his call volume doubled on the day 988 went live.

The number has since fallen, but the West Los Angeles agency said its total volume is up 27% since its July launch on Sept. 12. Texting soared 176% and chats fell 20%. Calls have increased by 27%.

“That’s a good thing. That means people are calling. They understand that 988 is there to help,” said Lyn Morris, chief executive of Didi Hirsch.

It sounds warm and fuzzy, but what about the fine print?

How do I access 988 services?

Anyone in the US can call or text 988. There is also an online chat option,

Didi Hirsch offers 24/7 English and Spanish speaking crisis advisors. Korean speakers are available during peak evening hours and there is support for the deaf and hard of hearing. Visit the website for details.

Who picks up or answers?

A crisis counselor trained in suicide prevention and dealing with other mental health issues and substance use issues.

Where are the advisors?

988 calls are routed to the nearest crisis center that matches the caller’s area code.

For example, if you’re calling from Los Angeles but still have a number from your hometown in Pittsburgh, your call will likely be answered first by someone in Pennsylvania.

If a local center cannot answer, the call is automatically transferred to a national backup center.

There are 200 call centers in the US. There are 13 such centers in California.

Will they know my location?

Unlike 911, calls to 988 do not use geolocation. That means they don’t track the caller’s address or whereabouts.

In a 2021 report, the Federal Communications Commission examined the cost and feasibility of adding geolocation to 988 calls. Federal officials held a forum in May to discuss adding the feature. The information collected in the forum is currently being checked.

Will the police show up if I call 988?

It depends. Most calls to 988 are resolved over the phone. However, 911 services can be bugged if the caller’s life is in imminent danger, e.g. B. in an ongoing suicide attempt.

Morris said about 5% of the calls, texts and chats Didi Hirsch receives require an emergency response. That’s 6,850 of the approximately 137,000 contacts that the agency received last year.

Nationwide, the proportion drops to 2%. That’s about 72,000 of the 3.6 million contacts Lifeline received last year.

The Los Angeles Police Department can redirect calls to Didi Hirsch if the caller is going through a mental health crisis and poses no danger to themselves or others. Of 5,000 calls routed to Didi Hirsch last year, Morris said 82% were de-escalated over the phone. The other 18% were referred back to the police.

Who pays for this?

The Biden administration has allocated $432 million to improve call centers and related services. The government has requested more money for the Lifeline in its annual budget. Congress has provided funding for workers, and a mental health bill emerging from the House of Representatives would allocate more federal dollars for 988.

California executives have pledged $20 million to the hotline.

States are allowed to charge telecom fees to fund 988 on an ongoing basis, similar to how 911 is supported. A California bill that would add a monthly fee for each phone line starting January 1, 2023 is on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The tariff would remain at 8 cents per connection until 2025, after which it should not exceed 30 cents per connection.

What’s next?

“The transition to 988 is just the beginning,” Xavier Becerra, Secretary of State for Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

The long-term vision for 988 is to reinvent the national crisis response system. The lifeline represents the first step and provides someone to call.

The architects of 988 envision a system that also includes someone who responds in person, such as mobile crisis teams, and points of contact, including crisis stabilization programs.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Wesolowski said. “It will take many years.”

Meanwhile, she said that 988 saves lives.

“For people who are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harm who may be in other types of crises, having someone to talk to can make all the difference,” she said. “Under the best of circumstances, it’s difficult to know a 10-digit number. It’s incredibly difficult, especially when you’re in a crisis.” How does 988 work? – Los Angeles Times

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