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A New Day or More of the Same? Our Hopes and Fears for 988 (and 911)

Year: 2022

From the Bazelon Center on Mental Health Law

Executive Summary

This year will see the rollout of “988,” the new three-digit number for calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 988 has been touted as the new “mental health 911.” The federal government and many states and localities are touting 988 as an alternative to and resource for the 911 system, to reduce the number of calls involving people with mental health issues to which the police are sent.

We appreciate support for 988 as part of a more effective response to people experiencing mental health crises. But 988 alone is not enough. More, and more effective, 988 call centers are only part of what is needed to help people with serious mental health issues, especially Black and Brown people who have experienced trauma from over-policing. We also need mobile crisis teams that can timely travel to help de-escalate a situation, and we need community crisis stabilization centers for those times when people need somewhere to go for help. We also need robust longer-term services, including intensive case management, peer services, Assertive Community Treatment(ACT), supported employment, and supported housing, and for children and youth “wraparound” services. These services help people with serious mental health issues live successfully in their own homes and communities—and avoid crisis situations.

This paper proposes a vision for a truly community-based response to people with urgent behavioral health needs. 988 can be part of this response, but is only a part of what we really need.