The long-awaited three-digit crisis hotline known as 988 rolls out nationally Saturday, a win for mental health advocates who see the simplified number as the first step on a path toward expanding crisis care. How ready states and advocates feel about the next steps to improve mental health is more complicated, reports Roll Call. The implementation of 988, which will direct callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is the first of the federal government’s three-step process to better mental health care. The steps include the crisis call center number, which will take calls and dispatch support; mobile crisis response, which will send teams to crises; and crisis stabilization services to receive and serve those undergoing a crisis on a short-term basis. The rollout, says Benjamin Miller of Well Being Trust, will show the need for larger structural reform within behavioral health. “We are constantly putting out fires without looking at who is starting them,” he said.
Advocates have called for sustained funding, as state efforts to find support for crisis centers have varied widely. Getting state legislatures to act has been a challenge, said Lauren Finke of The Kennedy Forum, a mental health organization. At least 18 states have pursued fee legislation that has been watered down, stalled or minimized, largely because of lobbying by telecom and cable companies. Finke said states have also been reluctant to build out crisis care systems without more guidance from the federal government clarifying whether more federal dollars are available. “It's clear that states need more guidance in order to be compelled to act, but there's nothing keeping states from acting right now,” she said. The 988 implementation date has served as a benchmark for mental health advocates, who had hoped to pass comprehensive mental health legislation before July 16 that would encompass policies related to 988 and crisis care, substance use disorder prevention and treatment, and a broad plate of mental health policies and resources. Efforts started last year in a a Senate committee; draft legislation has yet to been released.