A new phone and text number for those dealing with suicidal thoughts will go into effect nationwide on July 16. The new three-digit code, 988, was developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a simpler way to access mental health assistance.
"Texting capability would improve equitable access to the Lifeline, especially for at-risk communities," according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The phone and text number will direct calls to the pre-existing suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and further route those calls to over 200 local crisis centers nationwide, according to the FCC.
The service is free, anonymous, and confidential; no information will be shared unless counselors deem in-person dispatch necessary.
Designed to support those experiencing mental health distress -- including thoughts of suicide, fearfulness, or substance-related issues -- the lifeline also serves as a critical intersection for Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services and community-based organizations. After dialing the lifeline, people will be connected to the county's various onsite mobile response teams comprised of crisis clinicians and peer outreach specialists. Santa Clara County reports that its Behavioral Health Services staff are thoroughly trained and prepared for the new system, and that language interpretation is available in more that 200 languages.
Trained specialists will assess individuals on case-by-case situations, providing an array of services that range from de-escalating conversations, referrals, or interventions. Services that do or do not involve law enforcement are both available.
There are two official crisis centers in the Peninsula and South Bay — StarVista and Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Services. The latter offers support in 17 languages, including Spanish and Tagalog, as well as auxiliary aids and services.
California 988 crisis centers expect to receive a 125% rise in call volume in the first year of operation, according to a bill currently sitting in the California Senate. The bill — aptly named No. 988 — serves to ensure that the process to the 988 number runs smoothly over the next few years. State Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, is among the bill's lead authors.
Locally, youth and mental health professionals hope the introduction of the new number for the lifeline will aid a community that has long struggled with issues of mental health.
Palo Alto High School student Eliza Gaither, vice president of Bring Change To Mind (BC2M), a club at Paly committed to ending the stigma around mental health, said that the 988 line could make a difference in students' lives.
"I think the new shorter lifeline will help students and alleviate their stress, but the district should advertise it more so that students know it is available," Gaither said.
When it comes to mental health, she said, the district needs to create an infrastructure where students know how to easily access help.
"The biggest issue with the district's response to student mental health is the lack of resources. Teachers and staff should check in on students and assure them that they have help when they need it," said Gaither.
Outside of high school, mental health care can be even harder to find, particularly in Palo Alto. Having widely available mental health care is an issue central to the work of Dr. M Rameen Ghorieshi, a psychiatrist at Palo Alto Mind Body.
"Traditionally, mental health providers in our area are all fee-for-service, meaning patients pay out of pocket — we formed a community clinic where we can bill insurance … that makes it much more accessible for our community," Ghorieshi said.
Ghorieshi believes that, with the new 988 lifeline, call volume will increase, signaling a rise in accessibility for those who previously struggled to find mental health care.
"As time moves forward, if you need someone to talk to, you call 988. I think that will be much more accessible," Ghorieshi said.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or starting July 16, the new 988 hotline.