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988- The Right Call

On July 16th of this year, the new 988 crisis care system will go live, marking the first ever nationwide number dedicated to mental health issues. Operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 988 will serve everyone regardless of insurance status.

The implementation of 988 is a major step forward in our country’s emerging response to the need for improved resources when it comes to public mental health. This comes as a major relief to the two primary groups involved when a 911 call is made to address a mental health crisis: the person in crisis and law enforcement.

For individuals in crisis, it’s the right response. Historically, calling 911 has been the only option for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Although well-intentioned, this often leads to a more heightened state of distress for the person in crisis as responding law enforcement may not have the proper training to handle such complex situations. This can lead to unnecessary emergency room visits and even incarceration.

Many less urgent mental health crises can be resolved by 988 staff either by phone, text or chat. This fact will hopefully encourage the public to use the resource even if they think their situation is “not an emergency.”

For situations requiring an in-person response, 988 allows professionals trained in mental health to be the first contact for people in crisis, providing the calm and empathy needed at such a personal and emotional time.

Regardless of the severity of the crisis, people will benefit from one centralized system that provides a seamless response. From mobile crisis teams to proper follow-up care, people in need will get the best possible experience in real time, done in a manner that maintains their dignity.

988: A welcomed partner for law enforcement. For years, the responsibility of responding to people experiencing a mental health crisis has fallen primarily on law enforcement. While it costs approximately $900 million a year just to transport individuals in crisis, the real cost extends far beyond dollars and cents.

According to NAMI, between 2015 and 2020 one in four police shootings involved a person with a mental illness. Additionally, of the people incarcerated during the same period, 44% had a mental illness.1

To a large degree police across the country support the establishment of the 988 crisis care system, as it rightfully puts mental health-related situations into the hands of people trained for such a response. It also allows law enforcement to be more effective and frees them up to respond to more 911 calls.

988 is more than a number – it’s a system. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many states, unfortunately, do not yet have the resources in place to properly support 988. However, it’s only a matter of time until we have an on-the-ground, specialized response for anyone who experiences a behavioral health crisis nationwide.

Along with our government and private sector partners, Beacon Health Options launched the 988 crisis care system in the state of New Hampshire on January 1 of this year. We look forward to partnering with other states as 988 implementation expands.


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