Column: 988 provides greater access to mental health needs | opinion

988 replaces the National Suicide Helpline to make it easier for people to remember how to get help if they or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues.

This 24/7 national number started in July 2022 and connects people directly with a mental health professional. A crisis can include suicidal thoughts, mental health or substance use crisis, or other types of emotional distress.

No need to try to figure out if the situation is bad enough. If there are any concerns, please call or text.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration reports:

• In 2020 alone, the United States had a suicide death approximately every 11 minutes

• For people aged 10 to 34, suicide is the leading cause of death, and

• From April 2020 to 2021, more than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses

Sadly, I remember the days when someone killed themselves at our treatment center and our only option was to call the police. Although the police were very respectful, the procedure was to handcuff them and take them to their squad car to take them to a crisis center.

Even though we knew it would save that person’s life at the time, the process did not foster dignity and respect. It reinforced the shame and stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders. Often, with the cooperation of the police, we would meet at the back door of the alley so that the person would not have to humiliate himself by walking through the reception area in handcuffs.

Today we understand more about substance use disorders and other mental health problems. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) is collaborating with several partners across the state and nation to create a continuous continuum of crisis response to provide immediate access to help when an Oklahoman is experiencing a mental health crisis.

With 988, it is estimated that 80% of callers will experience crisis resolution by speaking with a mental health professional. When necessary, if the crisis is not resolved by a phone call, the call center will dispatch mobile crisis teams statewide for further assessment and intervention.

Approximately 70% of these crisis situations will be resolved at this time. Mental health professionals will schedule same-day or next-day follow-up appointments with local community mental and behavioral health centers.

All law enforcement officers will have 24/7 access to a licensed behavioral health professional to assist with assessment, evaluation and connection to treatment. In Oklahoma, police officers make more than 20,000 trips a year to help someone in need of mental health crisis services. This model allows private companies to provide transportation to a crisis center when it is more than 30 miles away.

More than 1,200 officers have been trained in Oklahoma in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a 40-hour training course for police officers sponsored by ODMHSAS with support from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. CIT is intensive mental health training and incorporates scenarios based on actual mental health service calls.

According to the City of Norman, our police department currently has 53 commissioned officers, eight communications officers, one fire inspector and one CIT-trained municipal court officer.

As we work together, more people will be connected to the help they need. Lives will be saved. We will let people know that there is no shame in asking for help and that help is available 24 hours a day.

For more information, visit samhsa.gov/find-help/988 or bit.ly/3ChxlAk.

Teresa Collado, MHR, is the executive director of The Virtue Center, a United Way of Norman Partner agency funded in part by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Their mission is to be a place of help and hope for people facing addiction and mental health issues. For more information, contact 405-321-0022 or visit thevirtuecenter.org.

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