For Immediate ReleaseJuly 13, 2022
Alternative to 911 for behavioral health emergencies
San Rafael, CA — A new phone number for behavioral health crisis needs will soon launch nationwide. Instead of dialing 911, people should call 988 to report when someone is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Marin County agencies are raising local awareness of the new option and explaining when to use it.
Beginning July 16, 988 is the number to dial or text for urgent help in a time of mental health or substance use crisis, or even witnessing another person deal with a behavioral health challenge. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) envisions 988 as a first step toward a transformed national crisis care system. The service is a universal entry point to a trained crisis counselor regardless of the caller’s location. Marin will be among the first counties to launch 988, as other areas across the U.S. plan to launch later in 2022.
“We hope that calling 988 in a behavioral health crisis becomes as second nature as calling 911 in a medical or safety emergency,” said Dr. Jei Africa, BHRS Director. “Everybody has a role to play in crisis response and suicide prevention and that’s why we’d like everyone to be aware of this new number.”
The local provider of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is Novato-based Buckelew Programs. Staff who receive 988 calls or text messages will quickly evaluate the emergency and use trained crisis counselors to provide an appropriate intervention. Urgent calls requiring an in-person mobile crisis response are directed to clinical staff in the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) division.
“Buckelew Programs is proud to lead the 988 transition, providing life-saving services for Marin residents,” said Buckelew Programs Chief Executive Officer Chris Kughn. “It means greater access for those experiencing mental health, substance use or suicidal crises. Our trained counselors can provide callers with de-escalation, safety planning, connection to resources, and engagement with mobile and emergency response teams as needed. The hotline helps a person experiencing any level of distress with inclusive, multilingual and culturally sensitive services. 988 is about understanding the caller’s urgent mental health needs and is an alternative to our current emergency response systems.”
The creation of the 988 line is an expansion of the free 24-7 services and confidential support to callers in emotional distress that have been available since 2005. The federal government designated the 988 number to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020 and went to work creating the infrastructure and training counselors fluent in many languages to respond to caller needs. States can now raise money to fund the call centers and related mental health crisis services by attaching new fees to phone lines. In California, Assembly Bill (AB) 988 is under review in the state senate, and would assist with hotline launch and provide funding for local service providers to handle calls.
The launch’s timing this summer ties in with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added stress to many lives. The national suicide rate has climbed nearly 30% since 1999 and is now the second leading cause of death among young people, according to federal sources. About 20% of the American population has a documented mental health condition.
Recently, high-profile acts of violence against innocent people – especially in the U.S. and especially with firearms – have brought more attention to the need for mental health services. It is estimated that victims in 25% of all officer-involved shootings are people in a mental health crisis. Thus far, law enforcement agencies across the country have supported the 988 program.
“While our 911 dispatchers will continue to be trained in crisis communications, de-escalation and recognizing those experiencing a mental health crisis through our inhouse Crisis Intervetion Team post certified training program we welcome the opportunity to work cohesively with 988 operators,” said Heather Costello, Communications Manager for Marin County Sheriff’s 911 Call Center. “Cross-system partnerships are critical to 988’s success because the dedicated phone number will utilize resources from various disciplines, such as mental health, police, and fire, depending on which services may be needed by the person in crisis.”
Marin HHS oversees government-funded behavioral health and recovery services on a local scale. More resources are on the BHRS webpage.
If you or someone you know is in mental health distress, find resources on Prevention.MarinBHRS.org or contact:
Dr. Jei AfricaDirector of Behavioral Health and Recovery ServicesDepartment of Health and Human Services
20 North San Pedro RoadSan Rafael, CA 94903(415) 473-7595CRS Dial 711Email: Dr. Jei AfricaMarin HHS webpage