What’s the 411 on the New 988 Hotline? 5 Questions Answered Abut a National Mental Health Service

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Beginning July 16, 2022, people struggling with mental health crises can call 988, a new number focused on providing lifesaving suicide prevention and crisis services. But 988 is not just a shorter, easier-to-remember replacement for the current suicide hotline. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission also established the 988 Lifeline to address longstanding concerns in mental health care.
The Conversation asked Derek Lee, a PhD student at Ohio State University in Counselor Education and Supervision and a therapist, to explain the new service and how it is different from the old hotline. Lee’s academic and research focus is on suicide, including training, intervention and prevention.

What is 988?

The three-digit number is part of a new national mental health program. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission designated 988 as the help line number, and Congress authorized funding for the 988 Lifeline Program.

Can people still call 1-800-273-TALK?

Sure. The soon-to-be old number has been operational since 2005, but it will not be going away just yet. July 16 is when 988 goes live nationally and callers can begin using it. Starting that day, calls to 1-800-273-8255 will route to the 988 Lifeline. But texting for the 988 Lifeline isn’t yet available, so anyone who wants to text or chat can still use the 1-800 number.

Don’t let yourself be misled. Understand issues with help from experts

What’s wrong with the old number?

The system behind it, including its 200 call centers currently in the national crisis line network, according to a 2019 report on the program.

A major problem is that call centers don’t always have the staff or the technology to handle growing numbers of calls.

Calls that in-state centers are unable to answer get rerouted to centers out of state through the system’s backup network. This gives callers a longer wait time, after which the out-of-state center might not be able to connect the caller with local services. Or the incoming calls might simply “bunch up,” creating a telephone logjam, and leave callers waiting on hold “too long,” a time period the report does not define.

The report does note, however, that there isn’t a consistent standard for wait times, staffing or other operational aspects of the call centers. State governments regulate them, and they are independently operated.

How will 988 be different?

Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that administers the crisis line program, promises improvements in what it calls “call center capacity.” But Vibrant hasn’t fully laid out what the improvements will look like. Congress hasn’t either, but the Behavioral Crisis Services Expansion Act introduced last year requires call centers to “offer air traffic control-quality coordination of crisis care in real-time.”

Where will the money come from to pay for all this?

The shift to 988 comes with funding at the state and federal levels, as well as federal oversight to assure equitable access. Initial funding is coming through federal channels, including the American Rescue Plan, Community Mental Health Services Block Grant and President Biden’s proposed 2022 fiscal year budget. Most of the long-term funding will come from individual states.

Why is all this happening now?

Much of the discussion began during the pandemic, which really brought mental health issues to the forefront. A study of 8 million calls to help lines in 19 countries and regions found that call volumes jumped during the initial wave of coronavirus infections. At the six-week peak, the total number of calls was 35% higher than before the pandemic.

In the U.S., the coronavirus national emergency and the widespread lockdown that followed brought nationwide increases in the number of people struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental conditions. Alcohol use increased, particularly among women and college students.

Who does 988 benefit?

Anyone who needs help with their mental health, particularly people in crisis. A major goal of the 988 Lifeline is creating equity in mental health services, especially for those who have not always had consistent or reliable access to mental health care.

For example, Vibrant has announced plans for its new system to help set up virtual visits with mental health professionals for those who can’t travel to in-person appointments, like people with disabilities or those in rural areas. Vibrant also said that the 988 Lifeline will provide telephone interpreter service in Spanish and over 150 additional languages.

Contributor: Derek Lee – Doctoral Student in Counselor Education and Supervision, The Ohio State University -TheConversation.com


It’s Time for Spring Cleaning, and Unhealthy Social Media Accounts Need to Go, Experts Say

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Many of us spend hours a day in front of a screen. Shouldn’t it be joyful?
Unfortunately, it isn’t always so easy. Prolonged screen time disrupts sleep and gives us a big hit of dopamine, often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter — so much of it that if you go overboard, your body could compensate by making less of your own. Scrolling through social media can add the harmful impacts of comparison, unrealistic standards and the spread of misinformation, said Wendy Rice, a psychologist based in Tampa, Florida.

“Any time you bring groups of people together, there’s opportunities for people to directly harm each other’s mental health by how they treat each other, for people to compare themselves to others in a way that affects their self-esteem, and for people to share tips and information that’s misguided, even if they don’t intend to,” Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist on faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in an email.

However, some corners of the internet are looking to help with content meant to make your life better.

Experts say with a discerning eye and a healthy strategy, there are different types of accounts you can follow to make your social media life happier.

Life-changing information

Social media use has been linked to depression and anxiety, but some professionals are using the space to spread information that aims to improve viewers’ mental well-being.

Every week, Kirk Honda, a Seattle-based therapist and adjunct professor at Antioch University, puts out hours of content on YouTube.

Some videos are a deep dive on a psychological topic, while others are reactions to popular media from the lens of a therapist, but all of it is made intended to make the world a better place, Honda said.

“There are some fairly simple ideas about attachment and relationships and personality and schemas that I can explain … that have changed my life, my client’s life, my students’ lives and my followers’ lives,” Honda said.

The information psychologists have can be shared to help those who need it, but unfortunately not everyone online is sharing accurate information.

“According to some research and anecdotal experience, a majority of the information about psychology online is dubious at best and harmful at worst,” he said, citing people sharing debunked claims about how to manipulate others or dramatic — often baseless — videos about how to sniff out a narcissist.

Information from laypeople sharing their personal experience with a mental illness can help spread awareness, reduce stigma and make people feel like they are not alone, but creators should include the caveat that they are sharing their personal experience, Rice said.

Many of the concepts and diagnoses are too complex to be boiled down accurately and comprehensively into a 15-second video, she added.

People who have questions about the mental health content shared online should consult a professional therapist to get more nuanced and in-depth information, Rice and Honda suggested.

Taking the filter off health

Hashtag fitspo. What I eat in a day. Weight-loss journey.

Social media is littered with content that can add to body shame — and sometimes even contribute to unhealthy behaviors to achieve a certain image.

Some dietitians are reclaiming a corner of the social media world to give audiences more holistic, healthy messages. One of those is TikTok creator and dietitian Steph Grasso.

“What really made me want to shift from the clinical to content creating is what I’ve been seeing on social media. How crazy diet culture is,” Grasso said. “People are going to the extreme where they’re eating 1,200-calorie diets thinking that’s healthy.”

Grasso’s account combats those calorie-cutting, weight-centric videos with her own, adding veggies to her Taco Bell order, making a grocery list that gets the nutrients she needs while satisfying her cravings, and sharing the evidenced-backed research behind some of the biggest trends.

“I’m really promoting healthy lifestyle changes that are sustainable and personalized to somebody’s lifestyle,” Grasso said. “I think my platform was a big success because I was showing people healthy eating does not need to be glamorized.”

Community, not competition

Like your home, your social media account may need a spring cleaning to stay a happy, safe space, which often means unfollowing toxic accounts, said writer, model and social media creator Kendra Austin.

While much of the internet has often praised primarily small, fit, wealthy, young White women, Austin curates her account and her content to prioritize authenticity and encouragement, she said.

Austin turned to social media not only to spread a message of celebrating individuals as they are rather than who they “should” be — but also to hear it herself.

“I didn’t see myself represented in any space, and I just felt like I knew that I was meant to create a world of my own,” she said. Now, she focuses her content on creating community for herself and her followers.

But it takes discernment to know what content is creating community and what is stimulating competition, she said. A good place to start is checking in with the feelings your feed elicits. “The biggest bad feelings that come up first are jealous or envy,” she said, adding that those let her know her feed has veered off course. “If you find yourself becoming somewhat jealous and envious, it’s just time to let go” of that content.

Instead, Chaudhary hopes her clients surround themselves with content that celebrates community.

“I love the social media movements that reject the outdated cultural tendencies of putting only certain bodies on a pedestal,” Chaudhary said in an email. “Self-acceptance, self-love, and a positive body image are all really important for promoting our mental health and overall wellness. We should be able to be ourselves, and be ourselves with pride, no matter what that looks like for each of us.”

Contributor: Madeline Holcombe, CNN Health