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By: Andrea Yan

Americans with mental health crises can now call a new number - 988 - that went live last Saturday in order to keep up with the demand of rising cases of mental illnesses. With this, there have been concerns about its durability.

Millions of dollars were used to help fund the hotline, allowing for features such as Spanish-language option and digital messaging services. There are concerns that since most call centers are under-staffed, they are not ready to respond to the increasing demand. According to the New York Times, about 18 percent of 1 million calls were left unanswered during the first half of the year.

Less than half of officials participating in the 988-rollout project were confident that people were prepared for the expected surge of calls. These questions about funding arise from the problem that the law that established 988 put the states in charge of funding.

Bob Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sums it all up: “[a] big concern is that the demands might outstrip the capability very quickly and these centers will be overwhelmed.”

Even though people have many apprehensions about 988, there is no doubt that it is needed during this crucial time. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) says that suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in 2020, adding up to one person dying every 11 minutes.

As the new hotline is used, the hope is that callers will be able to connect with mobile crisis teams that can go directly to the person and talk. This change is expected to decrease the number of times law enforcement officers have to get involved.

In fact, Dr. Benjamin Miller, psychologist and president of Well Being Trust, a mental health corporation, says “[i]f you look at data from the police, about 20% of their total staff time is spent responding and transporting individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Overall, 988 shows promise that it will become a safer and more efficient way to deal with mental health crises than 911. Dr. Miller says “I think 988 represents the best and worst of how America approaches mental health. At its best, it’s the ingenuity, the creativity, the positioning. At its worst, it’s the lack of resources, the lack of leadership and follow-through.” Although there are drawbacks to the new hotline, it is necessary and will save many lives.


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