By Brittany Anderson
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can now easily call or text 988 — it may just save a life.
The new 988 crisis line, which launched on July 16, confidentially connects people to local, trained crisis counselors who are available 24/7 to help those experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance abuse crisis, or any kind of emotional distress, and provide resources and support.
The existing suicide hotline number (1-800-273-8255), which has been around since 2005, will still be active but automatically reroute calls through to the new 988 crisis line. The new three-digit number is aimed to be easier to remember, and help continue to erase the stigma and angst of reaching out for help.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has been at the forefront of advocating for 988. NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health organization with over 600 affiliates, and its Central Texas branch serves six counties surrounding Austin, including Hays County, with various programs.
Kate Hix, Executive Director of NAMI Central Texas, explained that the 988 crisis line was created in 2020 in a federally-mandated initiative, but was not funded by the federal government.
“It’s one of those interesting projects that require states to come up with funding and creative staffing solutions,” Hix said. “988 is the first step in a much larger crisis response project that needs to be happening nationwide, and needs to be funded in Texas.”
NAMI Central Texas is continuing to advocate for 988 in the area, where there is work still to be done in order to ensure its success. Along with 24/7 call centers to answer 988 calls locally, mobile crisis teams would de-escalate crisis situations in person and crisis stabilization programs would be able to identify short-term and long-term mental health needs. These would help end the revolving-door of ER visits, arrests, incarceration and homelessness.
Hix said that in Texas, users can either call or text 988, but noted that at this time they will not be connected to someone local if they text. An online chat option is also available, which could be utilized if you are out of the country.
Hix said that users will be routed through one of five centers in Texas, that aim for 30 to 60 seconds for response time, saying that the two to three minute holds if a call has to be transferred out of the area is crucial.
988 also provides an extra layer of security for those who might be wary of utilizing the line due to not wanting to interact with law enforcement while experiencing a mental health crisis.
According to NAMI, one in four fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2020 involved a person with a mental illness. An estimated 44% of people incarcerated in jail and 37% of people incarcerated in prison have a mental health condition. Millions more end up in emergency rooms that are often not equipped to address mental health crises, leaving them waiting for hours or days without adequate care.
“There is some fear around calling 911 in a mental health situation.  connects people to those who are equipped to actually handle these situations. Between 80 and 90% of crises can be de-escalated just during a phone call,” Hix said, reiterating that the line is completely confidential and that law enforcement is not involved.
Hix also said that you don’t need to be experiencing a “level ten” crisis to contact 988 — you might just need a shoulder to cry on, or to talk to someone about how you’re feeling so you can get connected with help.
“Hearing that human voice is so important,” Hix said.
For more information on 988 and NAMI’s mission, go to www.nami.org/Advocacy/Crisis-Intervention/988-Reimagining-Crisis-Response.