FLMHAC supports a robust behavioral health crisis response system. The number 9-8-8 offers hope and a challenge.
Download our flyer: 9-8-8 - Hope Has a New Number to share with your elected officials, friends and colleagues.
By Gayle Giese, President, Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition
Published January 9, 2022 - BE WELL Magazine
Three little numbers could change the world of behavioral health: 9-8-8. This new behavioral health and suicide prevention hotline goes into effect across the nation by July 16, 2022.
9-8-8 became law when President Trump signed S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020. Callers dialing 9-8-8 will be directed to their local National Suicide Prevention Lifeline call centers, with national backup.
In Palm Beach, 2-1-1 Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast (211palmbeach.org) will answer the 9-8-8 calls. You can already call our local 2-1-1 and speak with a trained suicide prevention counselor, but that is not the case everywhere. With 9-8-8 national advertising, crisis calls are projected to increase a minimum of 300%.
With this number, a third type of First Responder is being created: behavioral health experts. 9-8-8 solves a problem that has existed since the de-institutionalization of psychiatric hospitals in the 1970’s, when law enforcement was first tasked with responding to behavioral health calls. While well-meaning, officers, even those trained in Crisis-Intervention-Training (CIT), are not familiar with local behavioral health providers and resources and do not have years of study and training in de-escalation techniques.
9-8-8 offers a better response. Based on data from the Georgia Crisis & Access Line, it’s estimated that about 85% of issues will be resolved on the phone, saving the cost of sending a first responder. Calls may also be transferred in a warm hand-off to a mobile response team that would come to your home – with workers trained to de-escalate a crisis and link you to services.
Diverting these calls from 9-1-1 to 9-8-8 with referrals to local services will not only save dollars and lives, but also free up law enforcement to focus on public safety and solving crimes. Police can still be dispatched for high-risk situations, such as those involving weapons. Most importantly, individuals with behavioral health conditions will be linked to providers and services the FIRST time they call, ending the revolving door of hospitalizations, emergency rooms, jails, and homelessness. Early intervention means more promising prognoses. Families and their loved ones will be saved years of trauma.
Annual U.S. deaths from drug overdoses are around 80,000 people and 48,000 die by suicide each year. Two million times a year, people with mental illnesses are booked into U.S. jails that hold many more people than our psychiatric hospitals; the cost of a day in jail in Broward County per the Broward Sheriff’s Office is $197.81. People with mental illness tend to stay longer with tragic outcomes for them and their families and no improvements to public safety.
But Florida must be prepared. Join the Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition to support funding requests from the Dept. of Children & Families.
Please encourage AHCA to apply for the Medicaid option to fund mobile crisis response teams and to leverage Medicaid funds as needed to support the 9-8-8 system. Please support a study to determine the capacity and coverage of mobile response teams and crisis stabilization centers such as centralized receiving centers throughout the state and commit to filling any gaps. Please promote collaboration between DCF and AHCA to ensure the ongoing success of the 9-8-8 crisis response system and establish leadership to provide accountability to improve the quality of crisis services throughout the state.
For those of us in the Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, including our NAMI, Mental Health America, and peer-run organizations, this is personal. When someone is having a behavioral health crisis, they need help – not handcuffs. People experiencing a behavioral health crisis are at high risk of death during a police interaction. According to the Washington Post’s police shooting database, 23% of people killed by police were identified as having a mental illness.
Thirteen years ago, my 17-year-old suffered a first psychotic break. 9-8-8 would have saved us years of trauma and greatly improved his prognosis by linking him to the right services right away. 9-8-8 will help veterans and first responders with PTSD, people considering suicide, those with autism, those addicted to opioids, those in abusive relationships, those lonely due to COVID and at the end of their rope.
A call for help shouldn't result in trauma or tragedy. Building a robust 988 crisis response system will move us closer toward a respectful, dignified and effective response to everyone who experiences a mental health, substance use or suicidal crisis.
Visit nami.org for additional information on 988.
As the demand for mental health and substance use disorder treatment has increased considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial that Florida lawmakers fully invest in mobile response teams (MRTs), which provide 24/7, on-demand behavioral crisis intervention services in homes, schools, emergency departments, and other settings.
A new Florida Policy Institute (FPI) analysis makes the case for using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to supplement current state and local funding for MRTs, which would temporarily boost Florida’s Medicaid match rate and allow the state to draw down millions in additional federal dollars. These funds are available starting April 2022.