REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI) – On July 16, 2022, the 988 phone number took over as the new mental health crisis hotline, replacing the old 10-digit hotline. This was in response to the growing mental health crisis in the country.
Elizabeth “Liz” Stephenson, clinical director of the Integrated Counseling and Wellness Clinic in Rexburg, said the easy-to-remember new number is already saving lives.
“There are so many people who have suicidal thoughts on a range. But when it gets really bad, they’re not in a mental state that they can think about logically, necessarily to think about a national helpline number like us. have had in the past, a number 800. So 988 is short, easy to remember when their part of the brain here (as she points to the front of her head) doesn’t work as well,” Stephenson said.
Before the helpline was officially replaced by the 988 number, Stephenson said mental health providers had only two ways to help people in crisis outside of their visits. “So far, really, our only recourse has been to tell a client to either go to the hospital after hours when they can’t come to the clinic, or to call 911 if they have an emergency on our law enforcement situation and so to have 988 where they can contact trained mental health professionals to deal with crisis situations like this they get help straight away they need,” she said.
In the United States, there was one suicide death every 11 minutes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10-14 and 25-34. Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more optimistic.
The 988 hotline will work very similarly to the 911 emergency number. “911 was set up to help with public safety. And I think when it was set up there, there was no didn’t have the mental health emergencies that there are now, and that’s increased dramatically and so our wonderful law enforcement now has to deal with mental health emergencies that they may not have been trained in about how to manage. And I know some of them have done a wonderful job of helping out in difficult situations,” Stephenson said.
She says that when someone calls the number, it sends it to the nearest local call center, the same way 911 will send the call to the nearest local dispatch center. “The call will go to the nearest hub to the area where you live. If it’s busy, the calls are busy, it will be redirected to the next nearest hub. And I believe they are like 16 hubs that are being set up right now, manned by hundreds of people, and they hope this will grow with additional funding and help as they recognize how great the need is.”
“It’s about the most local area. And if the person gets to a place where they’re safe and they feel better, then that’s fine. If the person is still in danger and their life is still in danger. danger then 988 can contact our 911 and ask law enforcement to come and do a wellness check and make sure they are going to be safe or if they need to be taken to hospital they can make that decision. Now different forces are working together, everyone to protect lives and help them.”
Stephenson says that as a mental health caregiver, the number 988 allows her to help those she cares for recognize a new strength when they call. “I’m coming from a strength perspective. So when a client comes in and says, hey, I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts and called 988. It’s like, look at you, you’re reaching out to help you. You become skilled. You take action. She adds, “And it helps them realize that they can help themselves. So professional. It’s true. It adds an extra layer of safety net, an extra layer of support that I’m not even aware of right now. And what a help it is for us, because we care deeply about our customers and want them to get the help and care they need.”
The helpline is not just for people struggling with suicidal thoughts, but for anyone struggling with their mental health. “If you’re having a hard time, if you’re going through a lot of grief, or just any type of mental illness, it doesn’t have to be suicide. If you’re in a very difficult situation mentally, you can call any day and you have people who can help you feel good,” Stephensen said.
The number is also available for people in addiction crisis. “It’s also for people in addiction emergencies, and so mental health, addictions, emergencies, they can help you with that,” Stephenson said.