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Tag: National Suicide Prevention hotline

The Intersection of 911 and 988: Decriminalizing Mental Health Crises

By BEN WHEATLEY

Effective July 2022, a new three-digit telephone number (988) will become the number to call in the case of mental health emergencies. Currently, 911 serves as the default number for people to call, placing the acutely mentally ill on a direct track toward police involvement. The new system is meant to ensure that every person experiencing a mental health crisis will receive a mental health response instead—help, not handcuffs.

In November 2021, 15 prominent organizations including NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Well Being Trust joined together to reimagine what a crisis response system might look like. Their Consensus Approach included the response to mental health crises, cases of suicidal behavior, and instances of substance use disorder. They argued that “Without a systems approach to transformation, simply implementing a new number to call will have little impact on those who are in need.” 

The Consensus Approach detailed seven critical pillars upon which a new crisis response system could be based, including Equity and Inclusion, Integration and Partnership, and Standards for Care. Pillar #4 stated that “Law enforcement should take a secondary role in crisis response.” This, they said, would be “a paradigm shift” that recognizes mental health conditions as “matters of health care, not criminal justice.” 

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