Advocates say launch is one step to shore up behavioral health system
Massachusetts advocates for mental health are raising awareness about the new three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 988.
Like 911, organizers hope it will be easier for the public to remember than the ten-digit number, which will still work to connect callers to the Lifeline. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health oversees five Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers.
Jacqueline Hubbard, policy director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Massachusetts, said calling 988 will get people connected with one of them, 24/7.
“These call-takers will now — all of them, no matter which you get connected to — will be able to refer you to additional services and resources if needed, as well as just listen and provide support,” Hubbard explained.
During the pandemic, 35% of Massachusetts adults reported needing behavioral health care for themselves or a close relative. Among those who reported needing care for themselves, more than a quarter said they did not receive any. Hubbard acknowledged the launch of 988 is an important step, but argued more is needed to shore up the behavioral health system.
Hubbard outlined three parts she believes are needed for a system to respond effectively to the ongoing mental health crisis: 24/7 crisis call centers, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization. She added there needs to be a continuum of care prioritizing prevention, care during a crisis, as well as follow-up afterward.
“That includes immediate access to mental health supports that are founded in agency, dignity and choice; services that are culturally and linguistically responsive; a full range of immediate crisis support services that are welcoming, noncoercive and meet the needs and preferences of the individual seeking care,” Hubbard outlined.
Hubbard stressed as the Commonwealth works to update its behavioral health system, it is important to get input from a diverse set of providers, recovery coaches, peer support specialists, people living with mental health conditions and their families.