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Home Health The U.S. Has a New Crisis Hotline: 988. Is It Prepared for a Surge in Calls?

The U.S. Has a New Crisis Hotline: 988. Is It Prepared for a Surge in Calls?

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Americans in need have a new number to dial for help — 988, an improved national suicide prevention lifeline claimed as Mental Health 911.

This number, which went live on Saturday and is backed by over $ 400 million in federal funding, aims to address the growing trend of mental illness in the United States. However, there are growing concerns that understaffed call centers across the country may not be ready to face the surge.

Many people who called lifelines in the last few months disconnected before getting help. According to New York Times data analysis, about 18% of the approximately 1 million lifeline calls made in the first half of this year were abandoned. A similar problem was found in a previous Times analysis in March, and the move to the well-known three-digit phone number is expected to further squeeze capacity.

Secretary of Health and Welfare Xavier Becerra praised efforts to prepare for 988, acknowledging that extensive work is ahead. “Once that happens, some people will answer the phone,” he said in an interview. “It’s not enough to make a busy tone or put it on hold.”

Over the last six months, hundreds of millions of dollars of federal dollars have had a huge impact on lifelines. This funding is a chronically underfunded crisis line (a nonprofit organization that has long been answered by call center patchwork, often coordinates several hotlines and relies on both paid counselors and volunteers). Helped to get additional telephone banks involved across the country, totaling over 180-200.

This funding also strengthened the Spanish network. A nationwide backup center where counselors can answer locally unanswered calls. A digital messaging service that is considered an important tool for reaching young people in need.

Lifeline text messages and chatlines received about 500,000 contacts in the first half of 2022, but only about 42 percent of them were answered. Nevertheless, the data provided by the organizations that manage lifelines showed steady improvement. Response rates rose to 74% in June, and average wait times dropped from 16 minutes in January to about 3 minutes last month.

One of the 988 goals was to finally answer 95% within 20 seconds, but there was no significant improvement in phone response rates. According to Lifeline, 80% of callers who hung up last year hung up within 2 minutes of the automatic greeting, and about a quarter of the callers who hung up tried and succeeded within 24 hours. ..

John Draper is a non-profit Vibrant Emotional Health executive who oversees lifelines and manages the services of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. Draper pointed out a “significant increase” in the response to digital messages. He predicted that the new investment would lead to improved phone response in the coming months, and said call centers were already able to keep up with the steady increase in volume.

“We want to make sure we’re dealing with everyone at stake,” he said.

However, less than half of the public health authorities responsible for deploying the 988 were convinced that their community was ready. According to a recent RAND Corporation survey..

Lifeline overhauls aren’t limited to phone, text, and chat. Data show that the hotline can resolve about 80% of the crisis without further intervention, but 988’s vision is a mobile crisis team that allows counselors to ultimately reach the caller’s current location. To be able to achieve short-term mental health by connecting with. Triage center.

Defenders say these changes are expected to reduce law enforcement interventions and reliance on emergency rooms and ultimately keep more people alive.

New lifelines are coming during a period of heightened mental illness, including what the US Surgeon General calls a “catastrophic” crisis among young people. Suicide was the 12th leading cause of death for Americans of all ages in 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, And the second most common cause among 10-14 and 25-34 years.People died from suicide every time 11 minutes Many believe that pandemics are exacerbating mental health problems, and the redesigned hotline aims to extend beyond suicide to help those in crisis. ..

Despite the expected increase in volume, questions remain about 988 long-term sustainable financing. This is because a law signed by President Donald J. Trump in October 2020 with bipartisan support left call center funding primarily to the state. ..

It gave the state the option to raise 988 funds in the same way as the 911, with a monthly phone bill, Only 4 states I have approved the billing of telephone charges. Many other states use subsidies or general financial resources, Enact other laws Prepare for a new lifeline.

“I think the 988 represents the best and worst ways America can tackle mental health,” said Benjamin F. Miller, a psychologist and president of the Wellbeing Trust of the Mental Health Foundation. “At best, it’s ingenuity, creativity, and positioning. At worst, it’s lack of resources, leadership and follow-through.”

Dr. Miller said he was concerned about whether funding would continue because the country’s mental health was always “retrofit”.

“It’s the marginalized aspect of our healthcare that keeps us avoiding investing tightly,” he said.

Jennifer Pyber, executive director of Mental Health America in Greenville County, South Carolina’s only 988 call center, said she was able to hold eight new positions with federal funding. But she said she feared it would be inadequate in the long run and her team is raising money for grants through the GoFundMe page.

“I’m sure it’s okay on Saturday,” said Piver. “But as the word spreads, coping with its growth is not what we are financially prepared for from a staff perspective.” The center answers more than 80% of calls in the state. But if the funds remain the same, she says: “

The national labor shortage also affects the ability of employees to hire and retain.The website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Department has a long page List work opportunities Nationwide.

Hannah Wesrowski, Chief Advocacy Officer of the National Federation of Mental Illnesses, said the mental health workforce was a problem “long before the pandemic,” and burnout has already been addressed to experts in the field. He said it was a very concern.

Much work has been done since the 988 was enacted, but Wesolowski says, “We’re trying to build a comprehensive system, which will take more than two years.”

988 Congressman Tony Cardenas, a Democrat in California and a key supporter of Congress, said the 911, founded more than 50 years ago, “did not start without hiccups.”

Despite the uncertainty, supporters continue to expect the 988 to fulfill its promise.

Preston Mitchum, advocacy director of the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth crisis intervention organization, said:

“We get there.”

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