More Californians Are Contacting the 988 Mental Health Hotline, According to the Report “People Are Calling”

According to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, calls to the hotline have increased nationwide. In the past year, there were 5 million contacts established nationwide, an increase of 2 million from the year before.
One anecdote stands out for Amanda Wood, the first therapist hired by Crisis Support Services of Alameda County to staff the new 988 mental health hotline.

When a young guy contacted to say he was considering killing himself and others, she was working an evening shift.

His and his family’s safety were in grave danger, she declared. I was aware early on in the call how crucial it was to take my time.

Wood invited a manager to join the call with her so they could both listen and offer advice on how to balance de-escalation and affirmation. When she realized he might benefit from in-person assistance, she invited him to role-play possible interactions with his family and put him in touch with a nearby crisis stabilization center.

280,637 contacts, including calls, messages, and chats, were made to the 988 number in California between its launch in July 2022 and May 2023, including Wood’s one-hour call. Calls have increased by 28% since the crisis response centers in California launched their easily recalled number.

It appears that interacting with 988 counselors reduces suicidality among contacts. Officials of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, the biggest crisis response center in the state, claim that only 2% of calls necessitate assistance like in Wood’s case. 98% of calls are handled by experienced counselors over the phone.

Wood expressed her gratitude to the young man she spoke with during a news conference to mark the one-year anniversary of 988, saying he phoned in a moment of “dire need” and worked with her “on an effective safety plan.”

The stage is set for a more robust crisis response, according to health leaders at the local and national levels, which may rely more heavily on trained professionals like Amanda and less on police for the 2% of people who do need intervention.

A secure place to go, someone to talk to, and someone to respond.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra revealed that calls to the hotline have increased across the country during a press conference on Thursday to debut the new 988 Spanish text and chat options. In the past year, there were 5 million contacts established nationwide, an increase of 2 million from the year before.

“It’s terrific that people are phoning. However, the fact that so many people are phoning and hurting makes it less than ideal, he added. We are conscious of the work ahead.

Becerra continued, saying that the current top goal is to expand the lifeline’s follow-up services.

Activists have advocated for alternatives to calling the police during crises, spurred by recordings and accounts of sloppy crisis intervention by police. Additionally, there is a growing understanding that jails and emergency rooms are not the ideal settings for people to get mental health care. MH First, a project started by the Anti Police Terror Project in January 2020, sent out mobile crisis units to areas of distress and served as an alternative to the Sacramento police.

The CEO of WellSpace Health, which provides a crisis hotline for 26 counties, including Sacramento, is Jonathan Porteus. He used the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s slogan for crisis care: “Someone to talk to, someone to respond, a safe place to go.”

According to Porteus, the 988 program satisfies the need for a listening ear in the first phase and that creating and funding crisis stabilization facilities and mobile crisis teams should now take precedence.

“The challenge and the opportunity is to create an appropriate conveyer, an appropriate continuum to receive those calls and do the right thing with them,” the speaker stated.

The Crisis Receiving for Behavioral Health facility was opened downtown by WellSpace in 2020. The “Crib” program accepts individuals going through a mental health crisis or substance use disorder, enables them to stay for 24 hours, and connects them to additional assistance. The facility, which debuted in 2020, has a 25-person capacity, and 5 staff members are always on duty.

There may be a future increase in financing for mobile crisis teams and facilities like Crib in California. In order to collect money for the running of crisis response centers and mobile crisis response teams, AB 988, passed last fall, imposed an 8 cent monthly tax on phone lines. Starting in 2025, the sum might increase to as much as 30 cents per month.

According to WellSpace’s estimate, which is consistent with other predictions, the number of contacts to 988 will triple in the upcoming years.

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