Although the Suicide Prevention Lifeline has long been a valuable resource, remembering the 10-digit phone number is not easy, especially during a crisis. Consequently, many people dial the 911 police emergency line, with calls for help that should have been directed to mental health specialists.
As reported by a U.S. Department of Justice website, the rollout of the new telephone and emergency service may be a breath of fresh air for people with mental crises or illnesses.
There is now a three-digit number that is easy to remember to call, chat with or text to get confidential access to mental health specialists 24 hours a day: 988.
This Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988 has become a much-needed resource of great benefit, not only for at-risk individuals, but also for police departments, overwhelmed by a growing number of calls with mental health-related issues. It is currently estimated that, in some departments, 911 calls with mental health undertones are greater than 30% of total police service claims.
This service has been put in place because many people calling 911 with mental health emergencies ended up under arrest, in prison or cornered in hospital emergency departments waiting hours or even days for care. And they often ended up back on the street, in jail or in the hospital.
Parallel to the operation of the 988 service, a guide called 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by SAMHSA has been edited with some suggestions for successfully implementing the new line:
- Develop cross-system partnerships that connect mental health and other health, police and fire professionals with the agency that manages the call centre and the services that can be dispatched.
- Engage key stakeholders, including government and community leaders.
- It must be ensured that the community has the resources and infrastructure to help patients. SAMHSA’s National Guidelines for Behavioural Health Crisis Care can be used to identify what crisis services exist at the local, regional, or state level.
- Review policies, procedures, and training materials to ensure that 988 is effectively incorporated into their crisis responses.
- Take steps to make sure that calls can be seamlessly transferred between 988 and 911 to responding officers, so they can streamline 988 services when requested by a person in crisis.
- 988 should be promoted. The public, as well as local law enforcement officers, should be educated on the operation of 988 as it is deployed.
- Coordinate with federal stakeholders to ensure that the department and the community have the most up-to-date information on what is available in each state.
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