Every person in south central Indiana can quickly access mental health crisis services by just remembering three numbers: 9-8-8.
Advocates describe the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as a critical step forward for mental health. The goal is to easily link people in an emotional crisis to counselors trained to help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and other mental crises.
That number can be used on cell phones for both chatting and texting. An online version of the service is available at 988lifeline.org.
In 2021, the Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats, and texts. But with easier three-digit access now in place, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) expects that number to at least double over the next 12 months.
Here in Bartholomew County, Centerstone Behavioral Health Services is among the 988 nationwide crisis contact centers that is making preparation for the increased traffic.
“To prepare for this transition, we have hired additional staff to work with folks who find themselves in need reaching out for help,” said Becky Stoll, vice president of crisis and disaster management at Centerstone.
Meanwhile, SAMHSA has further stated the long-term vision for all crisis contact centers is to increase access to crisis services, including mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization facilities available in communities across the country.
Similar to 911, building out the full continuum of 988 emergency mental health services will take years, as well as significant investment and policy change, according to a Centerstone news release.
Proposed steps to further strengthen key 988 infrastructure and services include enacting nominal state fees on wireless bills and passing legislation that would require insurance payers to cover a defined list of mental health crisis services. Both are common practices in funding 911 emergency medical services.
Indiana Family and Social Services Secretary Dan Rusyniak says the state plans to beef up the service further, adding more staff, and creating crisis teams to help where a hotline call isn’t enough.
In part, the 988 service is made possible by about $100 million dollars in new mental health funding. Nearly 90% of that money will be invested into community mental health centers, as well as local grant recipients. The money represents a blend of federal, state and local matching funds.
The remaining $12 million will create new psychiatry and psychology residencies and internships at the IU School of Medicine. It will also help fund a partnership with Riley Hospital for Children to bring mental health services to pediatricians’ offices across Indiana.