Many people often call 911 when they need mental health support because they can’t remember the 1-800 Lifeline number, Garcia said. Every year, millions of 911 calls involve a person experiencing an emergency related to a mental health or substance use disorder, according to the Pew Research Center.
But police officers aren’t always trained to deal with mental health crises and can’t be expected to provide the proper support during those situations.
“What I’m hoping is that now with 988, officers won’t be involved as much with some of these crisis calls,” Garcia said.
She also noted that many communities, especially among people of color, won’t call 911 when experiencing mental health distress because they might not have good relationships with police. And if they didn’t have the 1-800 number memorized, they would have no one to turn to for help.
Now, with a three-digit number that’s easier to remember, those communities may seek mental health support more often, Garcia said.
Amy Grosso, a board member of the Central Texas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she anticipates an influx of people calling the Lifeline when the new number becomes available Saturday. She said people are much more likely to use an emergency resource when it’s widely talked about and easily memorized.
Grosso used the rapper Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255,” named after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as an example. After Logic performed the song at the Grammys in 2018, the Lifeline saw a spike in calls that the British Medicine Journal said was a result of the song’s widespread attention.
Hopefully, this new Lifeline code will also spark an increase in calls, Grosso said.
Garcia hopes the new number will help continue national conversations on mental health. Putting the 988 number alongside 911 and 211 could help normalize it and make it a little less intimidating, she said.
“Now we’re saying that physical health and mental health are both health, and it’s OK if you’re struggling with each and there’s a way for you to get immediate help,” Grosso said. “And it also helps people know that if it is a mental health crisis, that there is a number they can call specifically to get specific mental health help and be connected with the proper resources right off the bat.”
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