Column: 988 provides greater access to mental health needs | Idea

The National Suicide Hotline 988 has replaced the National Suicide Hotline to make it easier for people to remember how to get help if they or a loved one is experiencing mental health difficulties.

This nationwide 24/7 number started in July 2022 and connects people directly to a mental health professional. A crisis may include suicidal thoughts, a mental health or substance use crisis, or other types of emotional distress.

You don’t need to try to figure out if the situation is bad enough. If you have a concern, call or message.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration reports that:

• In 2020 alone, approximately one death from suicide occurred in the United States every 11 minutes

• Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 10-34, and

• More than 100,000 people died from drug overdose from April 2020 to 2021

Unfortunately, I remember the days when someone in our treatment center was suicidal and our only option was to call the police. While the police were very respectful, the procedure was to walk up to the squad cars to handcuff them and take them to a crisis centre.

While we knew at the time that it would save that person’s life, the process did not foster dignity and respect. It reinforced the shame and stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. We would often meet at the back door in the alley with the cooperation of the police officers so that the person did not have to be humiliated by walking through the reception area in handcuffs.

Today, we understand more about substance use disorders and other mental health issues. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) collaborates with multiple partners across the state and nation to create a comprehensive crisis response continuum to provide immediate access to help when an Oklahoman experiences a mental health crisis.

With 988, an estimated 80% of callers will experience resolution of the crisis by speaking to a mental health professional. When necessary, if the crisis is not resolved with a phone call, the call center will dispatch mobile crisis teams across the state for further evaluation and response.

About 70% of these crisis situations will be resolved at this point. Mental health professionals will schedule follow-up appointments with local community mental health and behavioral health centers for the same day or the next day.

Every law enforcement officer will have 24/7 access to a licensed behavioral health professional to assist with assessment, evaluation, and connection to treatment. In Oklahoma, police officers make more than 20,000 trips a year to help someone in need of mental health crisis services. This model allows private companies to provide transportation from a crisis center more than 30 miles away.

In Oklahoma, more than 1,200 officers have been trained in the Crisis Response Team (CIT), a 40-hour training course for police officers sponsored by ODMHSAS with support from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. CIT is intensive training in mental health and includes scenarios based on real mental health service calls.

According to the City of Norman, our police department currently has 53 CIT-trained officers, eight communications officers, a fire investigator, and a municipal court officer.

The more they work together, the more people will be connected to the help they need. Lives will be saved. We will let people know that there is no shame in asking for help and that help is available 24/7.

For more information, visit samhsa.gov/find-help/988 or bit.ly/3ChxlAk.

Teresa Collado, MHR, is the executive director of The Virtue Center, a United Way of Norman Partner agency funded in part by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Their mission is to be a place of help and hope for people facing addiction and mental health issues. For more information, contact 405-321-0022 or visit thevirtuecenter.org.

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