NEW YORK — Starting Saturday, people experiencing a mental health crisis will no longer have to dial a 10-digit phone number or 911 for immediate help.
A new 988 hotline is being activated, CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported Friday.
Having a number to call during a mental health emergency was critical when Angela Kimball’s son, Alex, experienced a manic episode in 2017.
“He was really paranoid,” Kimball said. “He was delusional. He had ripped out all the cabinets in the house.”
A family friend called a local mental health hotline and a team of professionals arrived a short time later.
“It was led by behavioral health clinicians who were so calm,” Kimball said. “No one’s worst day should stop them from living their best life.”
Anyone who needs help during a mental health emergency can call or text 988. Experts believe it will help more people access that kind of support because, like 911, it’s easy to remember.
The hotline aims to give callers with mental illness someone to talk to, someone to respond and a place to heal. A 988 call will not necessarily lead to an interaction with police – it’s separate from 911.
Kimball, a mental health advocate with the group Inseparable, said, “Especially for communities of color, relying on law enforcement can be so fraught and that’s why it’s really important for us as a nation to embrace 988.”
There are concerns that more 988 calls could overwhelm call centers that are already underfunded and understaffed in some states. In Illinois, trained counselors were only able to pick up one in five local calls earlier this year.
Diana Knaebe heads Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, which has a call center.
“We may not be able to answer that phone on a regional level,” Knaebe said. “It may end up bouncing on to the statewide or to a national group.”
Leaders in Perth Amboy, New Jersey spoke about their commitment to mental health care, including more than $28 million in funding to support the new 988 hotline.
“We believe that the creation of this new 988 helpline will provide a critical new resource to help people in crisis and connect them to the appropriate treatment services,” said Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health.
The new hotline would replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Suicide rates in the U.S. increased by 30 percent from 2000 to 2020, according to the CDC. The risk is especially high for children, with experts warning the pandemic hit young people the hardest.
The Biden administration has invested $432 million into strengthening and expanding the call center infrastructure, including funding directly to the states. States are allowed to impose telecommunication fees to cover the remainder.