The mental health hotline, 988, rolls out July 16, does Washington have the resources?

KENNEWICK, Wash. — “911 is about the response, 988 is about support,” Levi Van Dyke with Volunteers of America Western Washington said.

On July 16th, the three numbers’988′ will get you help in a mental health crisis. It will not replace the Suicide Lifeline, 1-273-TALK, but rather make it more accessible and easier to remember.

“For people who are in a stage of stress, it’s hard to think. It’s just going to provide a huge ability for people to access care and help and someone to talk to when they need it most instead of having to wait,” Chelsea Klicker with Lutheran Community Services Northwest said.

A 2020 study on Washington state found that over 60,000 calls were made to the mental health crisis helplines in the state.

Klicker, the Communication Specialist for Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Kennewick, said sometimes all you need is a reassuring voice on the other end of the line.

“They’re the first step to maybe somebody finding, maybe the thing that going to change everything right? Often times we just need that one person to step into our life and give us hope to keep going,” she said.

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The 988 rollout comes as a part of a nationwide push and Washington House Bill 1477, which lays out the details for the mental health line and response in Washington.

In the state, there will be three agencies that handle the calls based on the callers area code; Volunteers of America is one of those agencies.

Levi Van Dyke said the bill has helped prepare them for an influx of callers.

“To basically increase funding to local crisis contact centers and then make sure we can increase staffing to meet potential volume increases,” he said.

Levi, a Senior Director of Behavioral Health Response for Volunteers of America Western Washington, said you can call 988 for yourself, or someone else.

“It’s a line for mental well being, someone doesn’t have to be actively suicidal or experiencing suicidal ideation to contact the line,” he explained.

The people answering the phones are trained to help callers and connect them with local services if needed.

But, with statewide staff shortages in the mental health field and lessened inpatient bed capacity, especially for children, will be have the resources available?

“We can’t let those risks stop us from taking those steps forward so I think regardless this is a fantastic step forward,” Klicker said.

“I think this is a first step for mental health in Washington and helping to build a more robust crisis care continuum,” Van Dyke added.

Both are hopeful that this will kick off efforts to ensure all Washingtonians have access to mental health care, regardless of their location in the state. You learn more about the Draft Operational Plan here.