The US Mental Health Hotline Network is Expanding, But Rural Areas Still Facing Care Shortages

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 988 phone number, launched on July 16, is designed as a global mental health support tool for callers anytime, anywhere.

But the United States is a patchwork of resources dedicated to crisis assistance, so what comes next is not global. The level of support 988 callers receive depends on their zip code.

In particular, rural Americans, who die by suicide at a much higher rate than urban residents, often have difficulty accessing mental health services. While the 988 can connect them to a call center close to home, they may end up being directed to distant resources.

The new system is supposed to give people an alternative to 911, however, callers from rural areas experiencing a mental health crisis may still be interviewed by law enforcement officials, rather than mental health professionals.

More than 150 million people in the United States—most of them from rural or partly rural communities—live in places identified as areas of mental health professional deficiency by the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration. This means that their communities do not have enough mental health providers – usually psychiatrists – to serve the population.

The Biden administration has distributed about $105 million to states to help increase the number of local crisis call center staff for the new 988 system. But states are responsible for filling any gaps in the chain of care that callers rely on if they need more than one phone conversation. States also take on most of the responsibility for staffing and funding the 988 call centers once federal funding runs out.

The state launching a successful 988 program will ensure callers have a mental health professional to speak to, a crisis team mobile to respond to, the Federal Drug Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which administers the current 800-273-8255 lifeline that 988 is expanding to, said the state that launched a successful 988 program. , and a place to go — such as a short-term crisis stabilization housing facility — that offers diagnosis and treatment. The federal agency also intends 988 to reduce reliance on law enforcement, expand access to mental health care, and relieve pressure on emergency rooms.

These goals may not be implemented equally in all states or communities.

Dr. said. Brian Hepburn, executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Managers. The group has evolved Form 988 state statute That emphasizes the need for consistent services regardless of the caller’s location.

For the new communication system to be consistent, Hepburn said, “you really need that whole chain of care.” The expectation is not that it is available now. The expectation is that ‘your country will eventually get you there,’ he said.