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Podcast roundup: The launch of crisis hotline 988

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On July 16, 2022, the long-awaited 988 crisis hotline launched nationwide. People on the ground and in communities with a growing number of mental health crises are cautiously optimistic about this new resource. While the shorter number and open pathway to conversation are a relief to some, others worry 988 won’t have enough funding to meet demand.

In October 2019, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, a bill designating 988 as the “universal telephone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline.”1 This new crisis line expands the scope from suicide response to caring for anyone who’s experiencing a mental health emergency.

Experts hope the three-digit number will be easier to remember, but there’s also a bigger goal: connecting people in a mental health crisis with local and regional resources without involving law enforcement. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, people with mental illness are booked into our nation’s jails around two million times a year.2 With more funding, trained responders, and a connection to community, 988 is intended to provide help to those in crisis without the added stress and trauma of potential incarceration.

What are mental health experts saying about 988?

If you’d like to learn more about the new 988 crisis hotline, these recent podcasts offer in-depth coverage and interviews with mental health and crisis experts. Please be advised that all the following episodes mention suicide.

Better Living (July 13, 2022)
In the first part of the episode, host Chris Arnold interviews Fonda Bryant, a mental health awareness and suicide prevention advocate, about response training and some of the challenges Bryant sees with 988: problems with area code and location services and a lack of the promised texting capability, which she worries will dissuade younger people from using the system. In part two, host Andy Riggs talks with Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), about the benefits of 988, including the ability to call on a loved one’s behalf.

Death, Sex & Money (July 13, 2022)
Host Anna Sale visits Wyoming, which had the highest suicide rate in the US in 2020 and one of the highest in the decade leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.3 Through interviews with people who’ve experienced a mental health crisis and those who work to support them, Sale explores how local resources can be beneficial in states where privacy and isolation are part of the culture. She also talks with staff at the Wyoming Lifeline as it transitions to 988.

It’s Been a Minute (July 14, 2022)
Guest host Anna Sale continues her coverage of the 988 launch by interviewing Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Wesolowski discusses what she considers a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for a shift in how we respond to mental health crises in America—while acknowledging the challenges her team still faces in connecting every community with immediate, well-qualified help.

Therapy Reimagined (July 11, 2022)
Therapists and hosts Katie Vernoy, LMFT, and Curt Widhalm, LMFT, discuss their concerns about what they see as the underfunded and understaffed 988 rollout. With the National Suicide Hotline already stretched too thin, Vernoy and Widhalm worry about calls that may go unanswered due to understaffing as public awareness of 988 grows.

Tradeoffs (three-part series)
In the series “Answering the Call,” which originally aired in early 2022 and has been rereleased for the launch of 988, host Dan Gorenstein explores what experts call the crisis care continuum: a place to call, someone to talk to, and a place to go. Episode one addresses the funding for 988; episode two offers a detailed look at how we care for the mental health of first responders, including 911 operators and 988 responders; and episode three examines how 911 and 988 might work together to help as many people as possible.  

Where to find help

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, help is available now. Contact one of the following helplines:

To connect with a mental health professional for ongoing support, visit our therapist directory.

About the author

Amye Archer, MFA, is the author of “Fat Girl, Skinny” and the coeditor of “If I Don’t Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings,” and her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction magazine, Longreads, Brevity, and more. Her podcast, “Gen X, This Is Why,” reexamines media from the ’70s and ’80s. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction and lives with her husband, twin daughters, and various pets in Pennsylvania.

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