The National 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is Here

The National 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is Here
By Leah Elliot, LICSW, CPS, Behavioral Health Specialist at the City of Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services
 
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 221,000 adults in New Hampshire (NH) have a mental health condition, which is five times the population of Concord. In February 2021, 37.7% of adults in NH reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, and 17% were unable to access needed counseling or therapy. Of the 70,000 adults in NH who did not receive needed mental health care, 41.7% did not go because of cost, as 6.4% of people in the state are uninsured. Cost is not the only barrier to residents receiving services, as 92,510 people in NH live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals. 
 
Unfortunately, this is a concern across the United States (US), as more than half of people with a mental health condition in the US did not receive any treatment in the last year. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on age, race, color, gender, or identity
 
According to Mental Health America, 17% of Black people and 23% of Native Americans live with a mental illness, and people who identify as belonging to two or more races are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other racial or ethnic group. Research has shown that BIPOC groups are:

  • Less likely to have access to mental health services
  • Less likely to seek out treatment
  • More likely to receive low or poor-quality of care
  • More likely to end services early

Some of these barriers can be attributed to a variety of factors such as cultural stigma around mental illness, systemic racism and discrimination, language barriers, a lack of health insurance, mistrust of mental health care providers, and a lack of cultural competency on the part of mental health care providers. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Black and Hispanic young people, ages 12-17, were less likely to access mental health care for depressive episodes.
 
Youth continue to struggle with mental health challenges. One in six US children aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year, and 15,000 youth in NH age 12-17 have been diagnosed with depression. If untreated, depression can lead to death. On average, one person in the US dies by suicide every 11 minutes. In 2020 in NH, 279 lives were lost to suicide, and 53,000 adults had thoughts of suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the US and the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents.
 
In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-8255) network of over 200 locally operated and funded crisis centers across the country. On July 16, 2022, the US transitioned to using the 988 dialing code, and it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strengthen and expand the existing Lifeline.
 
988 is more than just an easy-to-remember number, it’s a direct connection to compassionate, accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress – whether that is thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.
 
The 988 dialing code is the first step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care in this country. It serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help. Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the nation, much the way emergency medical services work.
 
One of the goals of the new 988 dialing code is to decrease the visits to emergency rooms, as Clinicians who answer the calls are able to provide emotional support and resources to people in various states of a mental health crisis and provide crisis support within the community, without necessitating a visit to the Emergency Room. According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, in 2018, there were 4.9 million visits to emergency departments by people with mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorders, and there were 312,000 emergency room department visits for self-harm injuries. 

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