On Friday, Rhitu Chatterjee of NPR discussed the FCC proposed 3-digit number 988 with mental and behavioral health crisis experts Madelyn Gould, David Covington, and Allie Franklin. Covington, LPC, MBA, is CEO and President of RI International, an owner of Behavioral Health Link, and leads the international initiatives Crisis Now and Zero Suicide. He shared with Chatterjee that the time is now for 988, highlighting that people know what to do when a person is in medical crisis but are still at a loss when it comes to mental health crisis. They are both parts of overall health, yet people in a mental health emergency face a vastly different experience that can result in days bound to a hospital bed in the emergency department. A three-digit number is a step toward equality for those experiencing mental health crisis, putting it on par with a medical one, whether it’s a person struggling with mental health, addiction, or a developmental disorder.
Gould, Ph.D., MPH, told Chatterjee that three numbers will be far easier to recall than the existing ten-digit one: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Dr. Gould, who is the Irving Philips Professor of Epidemiology in Psychiatry at Columbia University, has been evaluating the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the national network of telephone crisis services, for 15 years. Her research illustrates the hotline’s crucial role in saving lives, providing connection and resources for people in need, and why followup is essential. She calls the Lifeline a national safety net but noted that there must be dollars attached to the shift to an easier-to-remember number, which will result in increased call volume.
Allie Franklin, MSSW, Executive Director at Crisis Connections, echoed Dr. Gould’s concerns, stating that it’s critical for people in mental or behavioral crisis to get their calls answered quickly, and without additional funding to respond to increased calls, people won’t get the help they need when they need it. She said sustainable funding must be in place to support 988.