Column: 988 provides greater access to mental health needs | Opinion

The 988 number replaces the National Suicide Helpline to make it easier for people to remember how to get help if they or a loved one is experiencing mental distress.

This national 24/7 number launched in July 2022 and connects people directly to a mental health professional. The crisis may include suicidal thoughts, a mental health or substance use crisis, or other types of emotional distress.

No need to try to figure out if the situation is bad enough. If there are any concerns, please call or text.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports:

• In 2020 alone, the United States had one death by suicide approximately every 11 minutes

• For people aged 10-34 years, suicide is the leading cause of death, and

• From April 2020 to 2021, over 100,000 people died of drug overdoses

Sadly, I remember the days when someone was suicidal at our treatment center and our only choice was to call the police. Although the police were very respectful, the procedure was to handcuff them and send them to their squad car to transport them to a crisis center.

Even though we knew it would save this person’s life at that moment, the process did not promote dignity and respect. This has reinforced the shame and stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. Often, with the assistance of the police officers, we would meet at the back door in the alley so that the person would not have to be humiliated by walking through reception in handcuffs.

Today, we understand more about substance use disorders and other mental health issues. Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) collaborates with multiple partners across the state and nation to build a comprehensive crisis response continuum to ensure immediate access to help when an Oklahoman is experiencing a mental health crisis health.

With 988, approximately 80% of callers will experience crisis resolution by speaking with a mental health professional. When necessary, if the crisis is not resolved by phone call, the call center will dispatch mobile crisis teams around the country for further assessment and intervention.

Approximately 70% of these crisis situations will be resolved at this point. Mental health professionals will schedule same-day or next-day follow-ups with local mental health and behavioral health centers.

Each law enforcement officer will have 24/7 access to a licensed behavioral health professional to assist with assessment, evaluation and linkage to treatment. In Oklahoma, police officers make over 20,000 trips a year to help someone in need of mental health crisis services. This model allows private companies to provide transportation to a crisis center when it is more than 30 miles away.

Over 1,200 officers have been trained in Oklahoma in the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a 40-hour police officer training course sponsored by ODMHSAS with support from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. CIT is intensive mental health training and includes scenarios based on actual mental health calls.

According to the City of Norman, our police department currently has 53 officers, eight communications officers, one fire inspector and one municipal court officer who are CIT trained.

As we work together, more people will be connected to the help they need. Life will be saved. We will let people know that there is no shame in asking for help, and help is available 24/7.

For more information, visit samhsa.gov/find-help/988 or bit.ly/3ChxlAk.

Teresa Collado, MHR, is the executive director of The Virtue Center, a United Way of Norman partner agency funded in part by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Their mission is to be a place of help and hope for people facing addiction and mental health issues. For more information, contact 405-321-0022 or visit thevirtuecenter.org.

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