By Alvin Buyinza | ABuyinza@masslive.com
Americans can now call 988, instead of 911 to talk to mental health counselors/providers if they are experiencing a mental health crisis.
The three digital number is easier to remember than the existing 1-800-273-8255 number, but both numbers will still connect you to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“I’m hoping that this number (988) would be a great support to the community,” said Donna Bunn, president of the Western Massachusetts branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “This will focus more on immediate crisis support services that are welcoming and not coercive and meet the preferences of those seeking care.”
Callers will be connected to trained counselors – not clinicians – who can offer free emotional support. Counselors can deescalate situations 90% of the time if a caller is an immediate risk to themselves, Kacy Maitland, the chief clinical officer of Samaritans said in an interview with Axios Boston. If the call isn’t deescalated then the counselors call 911.
In Massachusetts, callers will be connected to one of five nonprofit call centers:
- Call2Talk – a program run by United Way organizations | 46 Park StreetFramingham
- Call2Talk – Springfield office | 1441 Main St, Ste 147, Springfield
- Samaritans | 41 West St., 4th FloorBoston
- Samaritans – Cape cod branch
- Samaritan – South Coast branch
- Behavioral health issues are rising in Massachusetts. More than a third of Massachusetts residents 19 or older said they needed behavioral health care for themselves or a close relative, according to a survey from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.
In 2021, Call2Talk received 98,000 calls. Now, in the first half of 2022, the center is set to break 100,000 calls.
“Just look at everything that is going on,” Eileen Davis, United Way Tri County vice president in charge of Call2Talk said. “Ukraine, Roe v. Wade. Inflation. There are a lot of stressors on people’s lives.”
To address the rising need in mental health issues, centers like Call2Talk are taking in more call-takers. The center’s most recent class consisted of 20 call-takers – most of whom are in Framingham. The center has also converted approximately 100 of its call-takers from volunteers to paid staffers, according to Davis.
Call-takers at Call2Talk are trained to weather the caller is planning to take their own life. Questions like: ‘Do they have the means? Is there a weapon? Poison? Pills?’ are all important, according to Davis.
Some callers don’t need to be on a suicide or crisis line but need help scheduling an appointment or prescription. When that happens call-takers are tasked with directing the caller to the appropriate services, Davis said. Sometimes caller-takers will have to alert providers like Behavioral Health Network that have mobile teams to go to people’s homes.
Call2Talk tries to avoid sending people to hospital emergency rooms that are crowded and ill-equipped for mental health care, Davis said. But sometimes that is the best response.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues please call 988 or 1-800-273-8255 for counseling.