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Updates on 9-8-8, the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

 

It’s been a month since the launch of the new three-digit Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 9-8-8, on July 16th. Formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, users can now access mental health care, substance use, developmental disability, and suicide prevention services by simply texting or calling 9-8-8. When a person accesses 9-8-8 or 1-800-273-8255, they are routed to a local crisis call center for support.

The new 9-8-8 line in Georgia is an addition to the crisis resources available to residents. Calling or texting Georgia Crisis & Access Line (GCAL), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline above, and now, 9-8-8, can all connect you to someone who can help. These resources will all help address the increased demand for mental health services, as calls to the National Disaster Distress Helpline increased by 891% at the beginning of the pandemic.

And already, 9-8-8 and associated state and federal initiatives have been heralded as a step in the right direction toward addressing the U.S.’s mental health crisis. The goals of the service include providing the least-invasive, person-centered care, and a safer alternative to law enforcement intervention. One of the champions of the specialized lifeline is Taun Hall, whose son, Miles Hall, was fatally shot by police in Walnut Creek, CA when she had called them for help during a mental health breakdown.

However, some critics have expressed apprehensions that a user’s geolocation will be automatically routed to law enforcement, exposing marginalized communities to unwanted and unsafe interactions with law and health care systems. The Associated Press verified with the Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that oversees broadband/geolocation access and all media communications, that this claim is false. The lifeline is unable to access and will not automatically route the location of calls/texts/chats to law enforcement.

Furthermore, studies conducted by Crisis Now Academy and the Arizona Crisis Now model found that at least 90% of hotline calls are resolved with connections to local resources and other low-level interventions. Emergency services such as those provided by 9-1-1 and crisis stabilization units are involved in only about 2% of the calls. These are reserved for situations involving high-risk and immediate dangers.

In response to this and other concerns, the Kennedy-Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity of Morehouse School of Medicine, and Beacon Health Options published a policy brief that offered six recommendations for prioritizing equity in the 9-8-8 implementation in Georgia. These recommendations include “deployment of law enforcement in psychiatric emergency response … only as needed” and “prioritizing visibility of groups that are historically excluded or inadequately reached by…psychiatric emergency systems”. DBHDD’s work with diverse community stakeholders is helping to ensure the visibility of historically marginalized groups in its 9-8-8 implementation.

In conclusion, some of the benefits that a user can expect from 9-8-8 in Georgia include access to a trained (local or national) counselor within 3 minutes and a connection to safe crisis care. Users can learn more about the rollout of 9-8-8 in Georgia, by visiting DBHDD’s 9-8-8 Georgia page or by emailing questions@988ga.org.

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Thank you for this information! I hadn't even been aware that there were concerns about geolocation of callers. This will be very helpful to share in my suicide prevention and response classes as concern regarding law enforcement involvement is something I encounter regularly.

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