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988 is Here! Are We Ready?

The Cypress team has been waiting for July, 2022 since we heard that 988 is coming. Now finally it is here and ready to launch on July 16th.

If you haven’t heard about 988 – don’t worry – you aren’t alone. 988 is our new national hotline for mental health crisis. It bypasses having to use the direct line for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and offers us all another option besides calling 911.

Why does calling 911 cause problems? 50% of the people who die at the hands of police each year have registered disabilities with a very high percentage having mental health diagnoses. People experiencing a mental health crisis are 16 times more likely to be met with excessive force when police are called to manage a situation. About 15% of all calls to 911 are actually mental health crises and that number is a higher percentage in rural communities. So that’s a lot of people who may call out for help and assistance, but end up having a negative or traumatic experience. That results in too many people being less and less willing to call out for help – even when it is most needed.

We also know that 20% of folks currently in jails and 15% in prisons have a severe mental health diagnosis. And we know that this reality disproportionately impacts communities of color – resulting in more historical trauma in black and brown communities and for folks who may need help but who don’t feel safe calling police.

988 will not solve all of that. But it does give people a much needed alternative to 911 because it connects them directly to a crisis counselor who can help manage the situation. We know that 988 will save lives by offering that option to folks – and that is really exciting.

But 988 is here and we know the transition won’t be easy. The Federal government is working with states to fund expansion of their crisis counselor workforce and to strengthen their dispatching resources. We know that communities are working on non-police response to the need for a wellness check. Most of those will develop into the creation of mobile mental health units – some are already operational in cities around the country. Mobile mental health units are non-police health professional staff – often a paramedic, social worker and community member – who can go and access a situation to see if the person in crisis needed immediate care and transport to services.

There is a lot of work yet to be done to ensure that every person who needs help during a mental health crisis receives that help safely.

988 is an important first step and we are so happy it is here!

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