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New Mental Health Crisis Line 988 Is Now Live: Here’s What You Need To Know

Hands with painted nails and multiple silver rings hold a cell phone.
(Priscilla Du Preez
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Unsplash )
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The new national number for mental health emergencies, 988, is now officially live.

The easy-to-remember number, which launched Saturday, is billed as an alternative to 911 for people in psychiatric distress.

There are currently 13 California call centers that assist the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The counselors who work in those call centers will now field a wider range of mental health crisis calls as the suicide lifeline integrates with 988. Some advocates worry those centers won’t be ready to handle the new calls with increased demand from the new line.

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In L.A., the nonprofit Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which runs one of the state’s call centers, is expecting two- to three-fold the volume of calls, chats and texts they already get because of 988. Didi Hirsch is aiming to have at least 400 trained counselors ready for the influx.

But the number is just the beginning. Long-term, the plan is to fully integrate the crisis line with mental health first responders who can be dispatched when needed and with places to go for people in crisis, like sobering centers.

Right now, the burden of mental health first response is largely placed on law enforcement, which often leads to violent outcomes.

Julie Wertheimer, Project Director for Mental Health and Justice Partnerships at The Pew Charitable Trusts, looked at how ready counties across the country are to take steps beyond that initial call for help.

“I think the cities and counties that are ready to provide somewhat robust alternative response are unfortunately at this point in time, the outliers,” Wertheimer told LAist.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted earlier this year to roughly double the number of the Department of Mental Health’s unarmed first responders.

This week, Wertheimer and her colleagues published a list of considerations for lawmakers and local leaders as 988 rolls out.

Wertheimer points to a possible lack of ongoing funding for 988 as another concern. “When we look at 911 as a comparison, 911 has been around for decades and is still not funded or resourced at the level at which it should be in a lot of places,” she said.

A bill currently being considered in Sacramento would add a surcharge to phone lines in order to beef up funding for call centers.

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