Initial data from new 988 hotline may indicate progress in reaching at-risk Georgians – WABE

Georgia’s 988 mental health crisis hotline received nearly 38,000 calls, texts and chat messages in its first 45 days of operation. And while the line’s demographics are preliminary, state health officials say the numbers are promising.

“The way people use this three-digit dial may make it easier for traditionally underserved people to seek help,” said Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. “We have early evidence that people we know in need of help who have been traditionally underserved are finding their way to help through this 988 line.”

The national crisis hotline was launched in July. It is designed to respond to calls, texts and chat messages from people in mental health or addiction crisis in seconds, and direct callers to nearby telephone or in-person counseling or other hospital services or outpatients they might need.

Callers are first screened by phone and then routed to a queue answered by masters level behavioral health professionals supervised by a licensed professional.

As the line prepared to launch, some mental health advocates worried that Georgia’s acute shortage of mental health care providers in some areas of the state would hamper the line’s effectiveness.

“The challenge is not the phone call. The challenge is getting the care needed for the reason the caller made the call,” said Roland Behm of the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Access to behavioral health resources will continue to be a chronic challenge in Georgia, an issue that is being addressed – in time and in part – by the Georgia Mental Health Parity Act (HB 1013), which took effect on 1 July,” he said. .

A Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities analysis of initial 988 call data found a high prevalence of calls from rural Georgia counties.

“These data are preliminary, we will continue to review them. But for the first 30 days, there were more cases in rural southern Georgia than in other parts of the state,” Office of Crisis Coordination Director Dawn Peel said, noting that there was an 8% increase in suicide deaths in rural areas in 2020.

During the same initial rollout period, 988 also received more calls from black Georgians than whites. Just under 10% of crisis episodes involved young people under the age of 18.

Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities officials say the agency is still working to ensure 988 is fully accessible to non-native English speakers.

The phone line currently offers service in English and Spanish and uses a translation service for over 250 additional languages.

988 lines of text and chat are currently only available in English. Officials say SAMHSA plans to roll out these messaging services in other languages ​​soon.

In the first 45 days of the Georgian 988 system, the crisis line received 476 calls from people whose lives were deemed to be in danger. These calls resulted in an active rescue involving police or other 911 first responders.

But data shows that a third of calls to the crisis line are resolved on the initial call.

About a quarter require a mobile crisis unit or other in-person response. Another 46% of callers need a transfer to hospital care or other crisis care.

“If someone calls our crisis center and they are at immediate risk of harming themselves or someone else, 911 should be dispatched,” said Monica Johnson, director of the health division. behavioral to behavioral health and developmental disabilities. . “Our crisis center can make that connection with our 911 partners.”

988 calls, texts and chats from the Georgia Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline are answered by trained Georgia Crisis and Access Line operators 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year.

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