In order for the shortened 988 suicide hotline to be a success when it rolls out in 2022, community stakeholders at various levels must do a better job helping individuals experiencing behavioral health crises, according to a new report published by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
The 209-page report, which was authored by the Group of the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP), proposes an extensive set of recommendations for communities, advocates and municipal leaders to help. It comes in response to the growing number of behavioral health care conditions across the country.
The recommendations are also meant to help those stakeholders improve the delivery of urgent behavioral health care services before the nation’s 988 crisis line opens for business next July, at which point anyone nationwide should be able to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8.
The shortening of the suicide hotline number from 10 digits to three has been a long time coming and is the result of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which then-President Trump officially signed into law last October. The goal is to make it easier for people in crisis to reach the hotline and get the help they need, reducing suicides and diverting behavioral emergencies away from 911.
While shortening the suicide hotline phone number is a step in the right direction, it’s not a fix-all for the problem itself, the authors of the report noted. The authors also described the current state of nationwide behavioral emergency services as “minimal.”
For the 988 number to be a success, the report called on community stakeholders to develop effective protocols and a coordinated network that can respond to behavioral health crises, much like those in place for the 911 number.
The report laid out ten strategies each for communities and leaders to deploy prior to — and after — the 988 number officially goes live.
For communities, those recommendations include for them to collaborate with stakeholders like activists and leaders and create groups to review and disseminate the report, as well as to establish behavioral health care systems that take into account the distinct needs of their locales. Communities were also encouraged to form teams of people who can meet regularly to share behavioral health system data to help improve care delivery, particularly for those responding to crises.
For advocates and municipal leaders, the report recommends the development of a 10-year plan to ensure better behavioral health care delivery systems, periodic assessments of the performance of behavioral health care systems and the creation of grants and awards to help community crisis organizations effectively carry out services.
The authors further noted how important it is to beef up behavioral crisis services overall, as anxiety, depression and substance use disorder (SUD) have been on the rise nationwide amid COVID-19, and are almost certain to keep the 988 number ringing once it goes live.
“An excellent behavioral health crisis system is an essential community service, just like police, fire and [emergency medical services],” the GAP report’s authors stated. “Every community should expect a highly effective behavioral health crisis response system to meet the needs of its population, just as it expects for other essential community services.”