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Editorial: The national mental health crisis appeal system is experiencing its own crisis | Editorial

The new national 988 hotline, a 911-style emergency call system for people contemplating suicide or other mental health crises, encountered a fairly significant acceptance problem. The system is barely a month old, yet there is already a movement underway to boycott it. Some users say it can aggravate existing mental trauma.

Despite being advertised as a way for people in crisis to call and speak to a professional, users warn that 988 counselors could end up alerting the police, who have the power to trace callers and take them to mental health facilities where they are involuntarily committed.

This is a significant potential flaw that should have been anticipated long before System 988 went live on July 16th. they need. The easy access to firearms for people contemplating suicide has made it even more urgent to have a quick way to get help over the phone. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says one in four fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2020 involved people with mental illness. Millions of people show up at hospital emergency rooms every year seeking help for mental health crises, overwhelming hospitals and very often resulting in delays or neglect of those in need of help.

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This is what made the 988 system a popular alternative. The Federal Communications Commission has established an exclusive nationwide number that should route callers by phone or text to a mental health professional.

The reception some callers are getting doesn’t seem to bode well, and people are taking to the internet to air their complaints and warn others not to use the system. On Instagram, Kaiser Health News reported, one user posted: “988 is not friendly. Do not call it, post it, share it, without knowing the risks.

another post said: ‘Helpline staff members use a set of suicide screening questions to decide whether to initiate an ‘active rescue’. The [system] calls the police for about 20% of callers,” with geolocation technology revealing where the caller is. The police are not necessarily equipped to defuse such crisis situations and may escalate the situation by barking orders and even drawing their firearms if the person in crisis is holding a weapon.

Some 988 users complained of having received an unhelpful or less empathetic welcome. The prospect of an involuntary commitment – ​​plus a substantial medical bill – adds to public skepticism.

Starting in the fall, system administrators say they will start requiring a supervisor to agree before an emergency advisor can notify the police. That should help, but social media sites are now filling up with warnings to stay away, suggesting that further delays could cause a system established with the best intentions to fail due to lack of acceptance by the public. audience.