Friday, July 22, 2022

Newly launched 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline serves as alternative to 911

To help stem depression and prevent suicide, the 988 Suicide
and Crisis Lifeline has been created to serve as an alternative 
to 911. The national telephone and text lifeline officially
was launched July 16 in America. COURTESY PHOTO
By Lorraine Glowczak

Boston College researchers recently reported that anxiety increased to 50 percent and depression to 44 percent by November 2020 amid the pandemic.

As described in the report, these rates were six times higher than one year previously. The study included more surprising facts.

“Among U.S. adults aged 18-29, the impact on mental health was even more severe,” the report said. “Rates of anxiety and depression increased to 65 percent for anxiety and 61 percent for depression.”

These rates are also intensifying right here in Maine. For example, the Windham and Raymond drug-free coalition known as Be The Influence (BTI) has witnessed a rise in anxiety and depression in recent years – especially among area youth.

“There has definitely been an increase in mental health concerns among teens as witnessed by BTI coalition members as well as other community and area health care officials, including teens themselves,” BTI Director Laura Morris said. 

Due to this alarming trend and the number of calls directed to the 911 emergency line, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) officially launched the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline on Saturday, July 16. This crisis line is an alternative to dialing 911 for people experiencing emotional distress, thoughts of suicide or a mental health crisis.

In a recent press release by DHHS, 988 is the new national three-digit dialing code connecting people to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).

In Maine, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have been routed to the existing Maine Crisis Line since 2018. With Saturday’s launch of 988, the process remains the same – only the number is changing.

Maine people who call 988 are routed through the Lifeline network based on their area code and connected to a trained crisis specialist at the Maine Crisis Line. Specialists provide therapeutic support and assessment in the moment, and connection to community-based resources such as one of Maine’s regional mobile crisis teams.

All 988 callers in Maine continue to be served by local providers.

Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield said that the 988 crisis line will provide expert care and support to those who need it most.

“We have seen a major uptick in calls,” Chief Schofield said. “There are a number of different reasons for that, and many include calls from the 25 DHHS group homes in Windham that provide services for people with mental health disabilities. The 988 line is a potential tool for police and 911 staff to provide effective resources for people who need it. Our officers have been doing an exemplary job providing a short-term need until expert care and support arrives.”

According to the press release, the launch of 988 in Maine opens doors to hope and support for the one in four Mainers struggling with a mental health challenge, marking an essential step in transforming access to appropriate services within their communities. 

“As with physical health emergencies, we hope that 988 will save lives by providing critical emergency services for mental health and suicidal crises,” Hannah Longley, Senior Clinical Director of Community Programs at NAMI Maine, said.

Morris concurred with Schofield that there are many reasons for the rise in the mental health crisis and suggests the 988 lifeline will be beneficial in many ways.

“The upswing relates to the increased use in social media, isolation from Covid, and increased access to substances to self-medicate,” she said. “A resource like 988 makes reporting for those in crisis is a confidential and easy tool without the risk of stigmatizing hurdles.”

The Maine Crisis Line is administered by DHHS and managed by The Opportunity Alliance of South Portland.

“The Opportunity Alliance is thrilled to have additional, easy to access support available for Mainers experiencing a mental health crisis,” Joseph Everett, President and CEO of The Opportunity Alliance said in the recent press release. “The compassionate and talented staff at The Maine Crisis Line have been answering the calls of Mainers in crisis for six years, and they will continue to provide dedicated, expert care and support to those who need us most.”

The 988 Lifeline responds 24/7 to calls, chats or texts from anyone who needs support for suicidal, mental health, and/or substance use crisis, and connects those in need with trained crisis counselors. Individuals can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. <

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