Suicide hotline ‘won’t work well’ without state help, HHS says

Rolling out the Biden administration’s national suicide hotline will require state governments to play an important role to succeed, health and human services secretary says Xavier Becerra said Friday.

July 16 is the date the US National Suicide Prevention Hotline will begin its move to its new 988 number. The idea is for the hotline to operate like 911 for suicide prevention and be accessible with online chat, text messages and phone calls. The effort has received more than $430 million from the Biden administration as well as $150 million from Congress through the Safer Communities Act.

But the success of that decision will largely depend on how states run their help centers. A report from the Rand Corporation suggests that many state and local agencies are not ready for launch.

More than half of state, county and regional behavioral health program directors surveyed said they were not involved in 988-related plans, while about 15% had no line of responsibility. mental health hotline or call center in their jurisdiction.

“988 will work if states commit to it. It won’t work well if they’re not,” Becerra told reporters on Friday.

Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Utah are among the states Becerra says are equipped to effectively deliver services starting July 16, with Rhode Island already showing a 99% response rate for related calls. .

The HHS director, however, wouldn’t say which states weren’t ready to deliver services effectively, though he noted a general challenge to “professionalize the workforce” and “be able to pay them well.”

The HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has met with state and tribal leaders to develop guidelines for 988 services and is trying to meet call center staffing needs.

Becerra also noted that “those receiving calls will have been trained” to respond to callers suffering from abortion restrictions following the June Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wadea decision that will drastically reduce access to abortion in more than half of the country.

“I have every reason to believe call centers will be ready,” he said.

Becerra added that he also expects law enforcement to be “really supportive” of 988, so “good professionals” can show up on the scene.

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