Alexandria, VA – Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of Mental Health America, issued the following statement today regarding the nationwide transition to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, a three-digit dialing code connecting those experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis with trained crisis counselors by call, text, or chat.
“Today’s transition to the 988 three-digit code for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a major step forward toward equitable and universal access to mental health support and services across the country. Mental Health America applauds the efforts of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Vibrant Emotional Health in making this transition possible.
“Nearly 50 million American adults live with a mental illness and more than half do not receive treatment. At Mental Health America, we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the current mental health crisis and increase the number of people looking for support. In 2021, a record 5.4 million people came to us to take a mental health screening, a 103% increase over 2020 and a nearly 500% increase over 2019.
“At present, the options for people in mental health crisis have chiefly been to go to a local emergency room or call 911. Emergency rooms have been overrun with demand they cannot meet and hospital-based care is not always the most effective and compassionate approach to crisis. Similarly, using 911 initiates a criminal justice response which is at best ineffective or worse, dangerous for someone in crisis.
“The launch of 988 heralds a major step toward realizing a national strategy to meet mental health needs with mental health-specific intervention at the point of crisis. But this is just the beginning. There is much more work to do. The public and private sectors must work together to create a robust crisis response system that links callers to culturally responsive community-based support and services. That includes expanding 988 capacity and capability in every community, ensuring mobile crisis teams are available to provide a mental health response, establishing stabilization options to provide somewhere to go in crisis, and investing in building a mental health crisis workforce – including leveraging peer support.
“To build this robust system, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels must ensure additional, sustainable investment in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. We cannot get to where we need to be without a long-term commitment to providing increased funding and resources. We also cannot get there by focusing on crisis support alone. We must put additional investment into prevention and early intervention to help people avoid a crisis stage altogether and improve wellness for all.”
About Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. MHA’s work is driven by its commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal. Learn more at MHAnational.org.