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Or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741
The FCC will require that phone companies allow people to text as well as call a new “988” number for the suicide-prevention hotline. Phone companies have until July 2022 to implement the 988 number for both calling and texting. “Texting to 988 is a huge step forward in improving how you address mental health,” said Hannah Wesolowski, interim national director of government relations, policy and advocacy at NAMI. “Text messaging is a central part of how people communicate and for many individuals the primary way they communicate.” She said that that demand for the hotline “is going to skyrocket” next year when the 988 system is fully in place and people actually know about it, and that resources are going to have to increase as well so that people’s calls and texts are answered.
The FCC unanimously voted to require text messages sent to the number 988 be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by July 16, 2022. Not only is texting a very familiar form of communication for most people, texting to reach 988 also will help individuals who for safety reasons need to access the hotline in a more confidential manner, according to Hannah Wesolowski, interim national director of government relations, policy and advocacy at NAMI. For example, texting the suicide prevention hotline could help an individual who is having suicidal ideation, or an individual who identifies as LGBTQ and is living in a household where they don't feel comfortable speaking about their sexuality, Wesolowski told CNN.
With the pandemic exacerbating the nation's mental health crisis, the FCC voted to expand access to 988, mental health and suicide crisis number, to include texting as well as calling. "We know that not everyone may be able to make a phone call or be comfortable making a phone call. The ability to text 988 makes it easier for more people to easily access help during a mental health crisis," said Hannah Wesolowski, interim national director of government relations, policy and advocacy at NAMI. "We applaud the FCC’s decision to require telecommunication providers support text messaging to 988," Wesolowski said. "This option will support at-risk communities, including youth and young adults, marginalized and underserved populations, and individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities."
A federal move to promote texting the national suicide hotline for help could strain crisis center capacity. Texting can make reaching help more accessible for vulnerable communities, including young people and members of the LGBTQ community, but many insist the system will need more resources. "We don't want somebody to text and not get a response," said Hannah Wesolowski, interim national director of government relations, policy and advocacy for NAMI. "That is something that will really need to be scaled up." "[W]e know people are going to start texting as soon as they learn about 988. So it's important that we start offering it, and work simultaneously to make sure that that capacity need is addressed." A recent NAMI/Ipsos poll found that 4 in 5 Americans believe mental health professionals should be the primary first responders in a mental health crisis, rather than law enforcement. "Unfortunately, very few communities have robust crisis services in place and that leads to law enforcement often being the only in-person response available," Wesolowski told Axios. "And this causes a lot of avoidable trauma and tragedy."
The FCC voted unanimously to expand access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by letting people text 988 starting next year. Text message providers have to support the three-digit code by July 16th, 2022, which is when the code will go into effect. “With today’s decision to require providers to support text messaging to 988, the FCC has created a new vehicle for people to access help,” Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of NAMI said in a statement. “The ability to text 988 will support at-risk communities, including youth and young adults, marginalized and underserved populations, and individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.”
A wide majority of Americans say mental health professionals, rather than law enforcement, should be the primary first responders to mental health crises, a poll released Monday found. Nearly 80% of respondents said mental health professionals, not police, should respond to mental health and suicide situations. NAMI CEO Daniel Gillison Jr. said “lives will be saved” if the country shifts to prioritize professional response to these crises. “This survey shows that we have an opportunity, and broad desire, to provide better mental health crisis care and reduce our dependence on law enforcement to respond to mental health crises,” he said in a statement. Hannah Wesolowski, NAMI’s interim director of government relations, policy and advocacy, said the development of the 988 crisis line presents an “unprecedented opportunity” to improve access to mental health services in emergencies. “It's really on all of us, the public policy makers, to act to make sure that when somebody calls for help, there's actually care available on the other end of the line, and we're not just providing an easier number to access a law enforcement response," she said.
Dana Bierley, whose children have anxiety, depression, and sensory issues, just being in the classroom was difficult with the constant noise and frequent disruptions. Bierley supports school mental health days and recognizes the value to kids for a day off to mentally decompress. Experts agree that normalizing the conversation around mental health, including mental health days, is vital. “It leads to more understanding, more empathy, and more willingness to seek help, which is so important,” Barb Solish, director of youth and young adult initiatives at NAMI, said. “While not everybody has a mental health condition, everyone does have mental health, and they deserve to take care of themselves.”
The Biden Administration directed federal agencies to take new steps aimed at reducing suicide deaths among veterans, who make up 7.9% of the U.S. population, but account for about 13.5% of suicides. The transition out of military life can present unique challenges for veterans. “That first year post-transition is a high-risk time,” said Sherman Gillums, Jr., NAMI CSO, “and many (veterans) don't make it into the VA, especially if they've got bad paper — a punitive discharge or things that were related to their mental illness.” “And I know a lot of (veterans) that were discharged because of a mental illness, and never got the connection to the VA that they needed,” he said.
One woman says she received several misdiagnoses over 15 years before being correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Primary care providers may only be able to spend 15 minutes talking with patients, not enough time to diagnosis a mental health condition. Another common reason misdiagnoses happen is “not because an evaluator did something wrong; it’s because symptoms tend to evolve over time,” explains Christine Crawford, MD, MPH, associate medical director of NAMI. Dr. Crawford adds, “A lot of providers are getting only a cross-sectional snapshot of what is going on in the person in front of them.” A lengthy evaluation with a mental health professional is often needed to make a psychiatric diagnosis like bipolar disorder.
"Embracing mental health days by schools helps normalize the conversation around mental health, which leads to understanding to empathy and more willingness to seek help when you need it," said Barb Solish, the Director of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives for NAMI. Solish says parents can start conversations with their children about mental health days by comparing it to taking a break when a person isn't physically feeling well. They can do the same for their emotional well-being.
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