To make it easier for people in mental health crisis to get help right away, the federal government launched the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline in July. The simple three-digit phone number works like 911 to connect callers with trained mental health professionals in their area.
“It’s not just about encouraging help-seeking, which is certainly part of it; it’s also about trying to match people to the resources they really need,” says Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “When you call 911, it results in the police or EMS being dispatched. The hope is to have a better experience for people who need support in a behavioral health crisis.
The shorter national number is also easier for providers to remember, making it easier for them to recommend the service to patients when they leave the ER.
“It makes it simpler, for the people we’re sending home, for us to say, ‘If you’re having any problems, call this number before you come back to the emergency room. ‘” Betz said. “It’s a real opportunity for us to reflect on what we offer patients when they leave the emergency room, as well as to rethink the care we offer to people with mental health problems.
Create a better experience for everyone
Betz, who sees suicidal ER patients every shift, says while emergency responders to 911 calls are trained to handle mental health crises, the presence of police cars, ambulances or Uniformed officers can often escalate a situation.
This may be especially the case in communities of color, where community members may have had negative experiences with police and other emergency responders. A dedicated, easy-to-remember mental health crisis phone number, Betz says, will hopefully allow these communities to get the help they need and minimize the potential negative effects of the community’s response. police and EMTs.
“Hopefully 988 will get the help people need, but it will also prevent unnecessary ER visits or police interactions with people who didn’t really need it,” she says. “They need a connection to services, but it does so in a way that gives them a better experience. It may also be better for the system, if it reduces the use of ambulances or emergency rooms when they are not needed.”
In Colorado, 988 calls and texts — which are routed by area code — go to the Colorado Crisis Hotline, operated by Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners. This organization is well trained to deal with mental health crises, as Colorado has the seventh highest suicide rate in the nation, Betz says.
“It’s ironic, because we think of ourselves as this super healthy, happy state, but we actually have a lot of challenges,” she says. “The pandemic has been particularly hard on young people, so there is a growing concern about the risk of suicide among young people and mental health problems.