Ian Patrick, FISM News
As Americans struggle with growing mental health issues, the federal government is unveiling an easier number to call or text when dealing with suicidal thoughts or other mental health problems.
On July 16, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules to make 988 the official number to call or text for reaching the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Veterans Crisis Line. In adopting these rules, the FCC said that the deadline to implement the new 988 hotline would be July 16, 2022.
It couldn’t be coming at a better time. The 2022 State of Mental Health in America report shows that 19.86% of American adults experienced a mental illness in the year 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports of suicidal thoughts among U.S. adults have been steadily increasing since the 2011-2012 years, with 4.58% of adults experiencing such thoughts in the 2021-2022 timespan.
The easy-to-remember phone number is expected to get a swarm of messages upon its release, but some health regulators are worried that their states won’t be prepared for the new system.
As of now, only 21 states have enacted legislation to fully fund their call centers. The federal government has provided $432 million in funding for mental health needs nationwide, but this will only prove to be a short-term solution.
A recent Rand report also suggests that fewer than half of the public health officials who were responsible for deploying the hotline are confident in the resources their communities have to tackle the new number.
“The launch of 988 has the potential to be an important milestone in the nation’s approach to mental health emergency response,” the report reads. The report recommends “greater investment” in the mental health hotline service as a result of their findings.
Speaking with Axios, Mental Health America board member Courtney Lang said the prospect of 988 is great, but its purpose is “a crisis line” where every minute counts. “If the communities aren’t ready, you’re going to have people sitting on hold lines when every second is critical to saving someone’s life,” Lang said.
Still, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday said that regardless of preparedness, “988 will be live” starting Saturday.