What do I need to know about the new mental health crisis hotline?

Updated 2 years ago on November 02, 2022

But callers nationwide can reach a counselor simply by dialing 988.

"Being able to talk anonymously to someone who knows what they're talking about, who's not going to be scared when you say, 'I don't know what to do, I'm thinking about hurting myself,' is an extraordinary opportunity," Dr. Trestman said.

Counselors talk about the causes of a person's distress - such as illness, job loss or family tensions. According to Dr. Draper, they help callers create a "road map" with specific next steps after they hang up, including thoughts about who else they might turn to for help, such as a therapist or member of the clergy.

Although the duration of the calls varies, they usually last 15 to 20 minutes, Dr. Draper says.

"When a person is in crisis, they are so overwhelmed by the mental pain they are experiencing that it is very difficult for them to see all of their options and engage some of their natural coping mechanisms," Dr. Draper said. Counselors can help "tap into some of those inner resources," he said.

In emergencies, such as when a caller needs medical attention, 988 will cooperate with local police or hospitals to dispatch services. In other cases, calls are anonymous. "It's just as confidential as a doctor's or therapist's office," Dr. Draper says.

In the months leading up to the launch of the new issue, The New York Times and other news outlets reported looming fears that call centers would not be able to keep up with demand, partly because of insufficient funding and partly because of a shortage of volunteers to work the line.

Nevertheless, those behind 988 say they are confident that the service can provide critical care.

"Does that mean you'll never have to wait?" said Dr. Draper. "I can't promise that. But I can promise you that if you wait, you will eventually get an answer from a counselor who will listen to you and care about your situation."

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