May 30, 2024


Health is important

Illinois takes step forward with 988 mental health lifeline

On July 16, the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health launched the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline across the state of Illinois.

For Deborah Humphrey, executive director of the Madison County Mental Health Board, the new 988 number is a major step forward in dealing with mental health and suicide crisis situations.

But she adds that much more work remains to be done.

“This has been in the works for a sometime and in Illinois, it’s still working on rolling this out,” Humphrey said. “There are three pillars in terms of the crisis response and two of them are already into play, one of them being the 988 number being used instead of the 10-digit number for the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

“The state of Illinois has had crisis response teams for quite a long time, but now they will be known as mobile crisis response teams. In Madison County, there are two agencies that respond as mobile crisis units. With the new system, the 988 calls will come into one of six Illinois “Lifeline Centers”-call centers.

“The 988 will be confidential, free, and available 24/7/365, connecting those experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis with trained crisis counselors. The mobile crisis team located in that geographical area will be contacted to respond.”

Those agencies are Centerstone of Illinois, located in Alton; and Chestnut Health Systems, located in Granite City.

“Both agencies have mobile crisis teams that respond in our area. They’re not bound by geography, and they can go anywhere in Madison County,” Humphrey said.

The third and final pillar of the program will be the creation of actual crisis centers throughout Illinois, including Madison County.

“Individuals can call 988 and a mobile crisis team will respond and complete an assessment. If the team assesses they don’t need hospitalization but can benefit from crisis intervention, the crisis centers will be designed for them,” Humphrey said. “Maybe they need some time out from the situation or short-term respite, the crisis centers the state of Illinois is looking to develop will provide this as another intervention.

“All of this is evolving over time and it’s still a work in progress. It’s probably going to be a couple years before the actual crisis centers are going to be developed and open.”

Humphrey noted that statistics back the need for an improved suicide and crisis lifeline:

• For people ages 10-34, suicide is a leading cause of death.

• From April 2020 through April 2021, over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses.

• An overall increase in stress and uncertainty arising from worldwide conflict and tension, incidents of gun violence and mass shootings, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other trauma affects Illinoisans across our state.

• In 2020, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes.

In 2022, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory on protecting youth mental health. Current reports are that 55 percent of adults and 40 percent of youth feel persistently sad and hopeless and 20 percent of youth have considered suicide.

Humphrey added that a statewide group has been meeting regularly to plan various stages of the 988 suicide and lifeline program, and that regional teams are being activated now.

“Those teams will be developing lists of mental health and community resources that can be utilized by call centers to help individuals locate resources when they call,” Humphrey said. “Maybe the crisis doesn’t require a mobile crisis team going out, but the caller may be depressed and need assistance because of financial issues or other issues they are experiencing.

“These call centers can help to provide information about social service assistance or financial aid. The state is going to try to work with each region to identify what needs to be done to help individuals get all of the assistance and the information that they need.”

Humphrey said there are several advantages to the new 988 number, starting with its simplicity.

“For one thing, if you think about trying to remember a 10-digit number and now you just need to dial 988, that in itself is huge to me,” Humphrey said. “When you see 911, you know it’s an emergency, and when you see 988, people will know that it’s for a crisis situation.

“I think there does need to be public education about differentiation between those two numbers. I’ve been in meetings with law enforcement, and there was initial concern that the 988 calls would also go to 911, and that would overwhelm their system. But it is a completely separate line and the people that answer 988 calls will not be the same ones answering 911.”

Humphrey also made a clarification about situations when people should call 911 instead of calling 988 first.

“Under the new law, only the mobile crisis teams are supposed to go out to respond to 988 calls, and the police should be contacted only after an assessment is complete,” Humphrey said. “That brings concerns for anyone in the mental health field because sometimes you don’t know what you’re walking into.

“If there is a gun or another weapon involved, or if there is physical violence against another person, that’s a different situation and 911 should still be called because these are criminal offenses. If someone is not in immediate danger, saying they are going to hurt themselves or that they don’t want to live anymore, or there is another mental crisis where they aren’t threatening to harm themselves or others, then call 988.”