A Well World: Crisis Care Access for All
The Well has never served its members in a vacuum. Since our beginnings two decades ago, we’ve been grateful to be able not only to offer a place to belong for individuals dealing with serious mental illnesses but to point them to other resources and services that can help them pursue mental health stability.
I’m excited that a new resource is now available, not only to our members or just to those in the Dallas area but to the entire country. On July 16, the 988 mental health and suicide prevention hotline was launched nationwide, providing 24/7 access for mental health crises in the same way that 911 connects Americans to round-the clock emergency services.
Mental Health America of Greater Dallas (MHA-Dallas), the recipient of our 2022 Courage and Advocacy Award, has been instrumental in raising awareness about this new hotline in our community as well as increasing preparedness for its rollout. Through social media campaigns and other online outreach, this organization is working to ensure that everyone in the Dallas area knows to dial 988 to reach a trained crisis counselor. And through its advocacy efforts, it’s working to build the wraparound services needed to provide follow-up after a crisis. I’m immensely grateful for MHA-Dallas’ tireless efforts in the launch of this vital resource.
I’m also thankful for Bonnie Cook, Executive Director of MHA-Dallas, whom I met shortly after she began serving at this organization four years ago. She’s a powerful advocate for people living with mental health difficulties, and I admire and applaud her commitment to bringing the needs of these individuals before legislators and leaders. Her recent work to promote and rally support for 988 is just a small piece of her efforts to improve the lives of people in our community facing the daily challenges of mental illness.
As she shares, these efforts are needed because the systems required to support preexisting hotlines are both underfunded and understaffed. “Texas is already woefully behind in our structure and support for suicide crisis lines,” she explains. She shared shortly before the rollout of 988 that fewer than half of the calls to these numbers from Texas are answered in the state; the rest are routed elsewhere. As call volume will likely increase as more people become aware of 988, these deficits in staffing and funding will become even more pronounced.
Despite these challenges, Bonnie explains that 988 will take pressure off of 911 operators as it connects those who are struggling and their loved ones with counselors who are trained to respond to mental health crisis calls. “We have resources to help someone rather than overburden the system,” she shares. It will also help to prevent police from serving as de facto mental health first responders. “Law enforcement will be involved if mental health professionals aren’t.”
Because 988 is easy to recall, unlike the old suicide prevention number, it’s increasing access to mental health crisis services. And, as Bonnie told me, a geolocation feature allows calls that come in to be routed to calls centers in the local area, even if a person’s cell phone number doesn’t reflect their current location. This makes it possible for those experiencing a crisis to talk to a counselor who can provide referrals to resources and follow-up care in their community; and, in the event of a life-threatening situation, it allows emergency services to reach a person faster.
As 988 is getting off the ground in the Dallas area, Bonnie emphasizes that anyone who calls the new hotline and doesn’t receive an answer should try again. And, she adds, anyone who doesn’t get through the second time should call MHA-Dallas at 214-871-2420 or the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255.
Bonnie also encourages those who care about access to mental health crisis services to head to mhadallas.org/get-involved and sign up to get legislative talking points, as well as to stay up to date on what the organization hopes 988 will do and how Texas can help this new hotline thrive and grow. “It’s in everyone’s best interest,” Bonnie says.
I couldn’t agree more.