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What Is 988?

brightly colored digital illustration of a woman with a question mark over her head; she is on the phone and there is large version of the top half of the man she is talking to; he has on a headset - suicide prevention

It just got much easier to get help for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. On July 16, 2022, a national three-digit number rolled out that guides callers to support for suicidal ideation. The number, 988, will connect anyone who dials it to trained crisis counselors with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline who can help them to stay safe in whatever way works best for them – any time, night or day, even on holidays and weekends.

Suicide Prevention Resources: Simplifying the Process

While there have been a variety of suicide prevention resources available in the United States for some time, a person had to dial ten digits to reach any of them; on top of that, there were different numbers for veterans than for non-veterans. Now, everyone needing help will still be able to use those old numbers, but they’ll also have the option to use the simpler 988, and veterans who dial 988 will be able to select an option for specialized support.

Text Too

Not only will 988 work when dialed from a phone, but, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) it is also reachable via text message. Because suicide is so common among young adults, who are more likely to use text than voice calling, this is an important feature.

Necessary Changes

When 911 was implemented on a national scale, many people were issued new home addresses because it was difficult for dispatchers to send emergency responders to rural route addresses.

Some changes have also been required to facilitate the rollout of 988. Now, people must dial all ten digits of a phone number when calling out; there is no 988 area code, but some phone numbers start with 988 if only the final seven digits are dialed. If a person dials those seven digits without the area code, they will be directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Other Three Digit Numbers

A number of other three digit numbers are already in place in the United States to connect people to important services and resources. These include:

  • 211 – a database of community resources that includes emergency housing, food, domestic violence information, and services for the elderly.
  • 911 – the fastest way to connect to emergency services including law enforcement, fire departments, and paramedics. Dispatchers taking the call may not have any training on handling mental health crises.
  • 988 – Law enforcement is far less likely to get involved in these calls, and the focus will be on trying to help the person create a plan to keep themselves safe. The person who answers the phone will be a trained crisis counselor who has the tools to address suicidal ideation. They may help the caller reach out to friends or family members instead of relying on police or emergency medical services.

Mobile Crisis Instead of Law Enforcement

A possible service that may be offered in some areas and dispatched by calling 988 is Mobile Crisis. Mobile Crisis is a service that sends teams of crisis counselors into the homes or preferred public locations of people struggling with a mental health crisis. This is an alternative that is being successfully used in place of law enforcement in some areas and in situations when it is safe to do so. It is desirable to keep law enforcement out of mental health crises whenever possible, as evidenced by the following statistics:

  • One in four fatal shootings by law enforcement involved a person with a mental health diagnosis.
  • 44 percent of people in jail and 37 percent of people in prison have a documented mental health condition – approximately 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails or prisons each year.

In addition to being safer than law enforcement, Mobile Crisis can also take the strain off of hospital emergency departments and law enforcement, allowing them more time to focus on the types of crises they are trained to handle.

Crisis Stabilization

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has also come out in favor of 988 and Mobile Crisis being two pieces of a three-part puzzle that makes up effective crisis response, including suicide prevention:

  1. Someone to talk to – 988 would offer phone and text support and route to more resources if needed.
  2. Someone to respond – Mobile Crisis would be dispatched if face-to-face support was needed.
  3. Somewhere to go – Crisis Stabilization Programs are trauma-informed programs in which people can receive short-term observation and assessment. They can facilitate the transition to long-term outpatient care that could include therapy, medication management, peer support, and more.

Highland Hospital Is Ready to Help

If you or a loved one experience thoughts about suicide or self-harm, or if you struggle with mental health issues, Highland Hospital in West Virginia is here to help. Our team of caring professionals can provide an assessment and create a treatment plan catered to your unique needs. For more information about our services, contact us today.

Looking for residential mental health treatment in Charleston, West Virginia? For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (304) 322-3037.

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