Hopeline: 988

New national number for mental health crisis leans into local community networks 

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, you know how dark the world can feel sometimes. You’re not alone. Every day in Philadelphia, 200 people seek support for emotional distress or crisis. Sadly, this is part of a wider trend across the country, as we all stress out over pandemics, gun violence, climate change, political extremism – deep breath – crumbling social norms. The good news is, the US has made an enormous investment in mental health funding, including $200 million to totally revamp our national response system (Thanks, infrastructure bill!).

The country has had a toll-free “Suicide Prevention Lifeline” since 2005, but in 2022 we upgraded to a three-digit 24/7 hotline, 988, that provides a fuller suite of mental health support and referrals, in addition to free, confidential emotional support for people in emotional crisis or distress. In Philadelphia, 988 calls are directed to a Community Mobile Crisis Response network where trained, trusted professionals respond with non-police services.

Unlike 911, which uses geolocation to automatically pinpoint a caller’s address from their phone, 988 has no such surveillance capabilities. Callers need not worry that an emergency vehicle will spontaneously appear to hold them against their will – or worse. If you’re uncomfortable with the call at any time, you can just hang up. Therapeutically, 988’s counselors are trained to help people manage their feelings, to explain (and refer) outpatient treatment options, and to support self-care efforts.

⚠️⚠️⚠️ BIG CAVEAT: If a counselor feels danger is imminent, 988’s official policy is to call 911. 😬 And then I guess they just hope that the cops who arrive aren’t racist, reactionary (or both)…? If they send an ambulance instead that might be safer but it’s also very expensive, which kinda seems like a cruel trick – to save someone’s life only to trash it with bills they can’t pay.

988 Alternatives

Most critics of 988 find the hotline’s connection to 911 problematic, putting callers at at risk for nonconsensual location tracing, unwanted involvement of law enforcement, and involuntary hospitalization/violation of privacy rights. These outcomes can be harmful and downright traumatizing for some callers, especially those from marginalized communities.

“Warm lines” offer another alternative that’s focused on emotional assistance over intervention. Most are peer-supported, often staffed with volunteers trained to provide empathy, acceptance, and information.  If you are not in a crisis situation, you can try one of the following resources:

HealthyMindsPhilly.org: A 24/7 mental crisis line for individuals and their families dealing with mental/behavioral health emergencies. All callers receive counseling, guidance, and direction for evaluation/treatment options. 215-685-6440 or text “HOME” to 741741. (Non-emergencies call 855-507-9276, M–F, 4–7PM)

Blackline: A hotline geared toward the Black, Black LGBTQ+, brown, Native, and Muslim communities – callblackline.com 800-604-5841 (text too) or email info@callblackline.org (though the hotline is geared towards people of color, no one will be turned away). Anonymous and confidential crisis counseling. It also provides an avenue to report negative physical and/or inappropriate contact with police.

Trans Lifeline Hotline: Peer-supported phone service for trans and questioning peers. Full anonymity, no “nonconsensual active rescue” (they won’t call 911 on you or share your info with law enforcement) translifeline.org/hotline 877-565-8860

Whoever you are, however you’re feeling: you matter! Services and resources exist that can help you through your pain, starting right now. Take the time, call a line. Thank you for fighting back against hopelessness. The more we can make space for healing and understanding in our lives, the better our whole community can be. 🌟🌈 🧡

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, staffed by trained counselors providing free, confidential support. Spanish speakers call: 1-888-628-9454. Hearing impaired: 1-800-799-4889.

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