Which to call: 211 vs. 988 vs. 911
Who do you call for a mental health emergency?
Health involves physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. It’s important to ask when help is needed and many times there is a timely element. If you are having a medical emergency, you know to call 911, but there has always been a pause when it comes to a mental health crisis. Who do you call when that medical emergency involves your mental health?
There is a new three-digit phone number to call that Kansas residents can use: 9-8-8.
What is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline?
A U.S. government agency that oversees communications (FCC) designated the phone number 9-8-8 as a nationwide phone number for those who are considering suicide or facing mental health issues and to get them the health they need. You can call or text that hotline, or chat online at 988lifeline.org.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, lets you talk to trained crisis counselors. These counselors can get help for those suffering from substance abuse, emotional distress, or suicidal thoughts.
Should I call 988?
We need to normalize the idea that all health is important and when an emergency happens, you should feel confident in asking for help. In August 2022, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline answered 318,048 communications (calls, texts, and online chats) dealing with mental health.*
If you are suffering from thoughts of harming yourself, substance abuse or emotional distress, you are not alone. What you are feeling is treatable and more common than you think.
We had a chance to consult with COMCARE of Sedgwick County, an organization in the county charged with helping residents with their mental health, and they want to reaffirm this concept: Recovery is not only possible, it is probable.
911 vs 988 vs 211
During a mental health emergency where you want and need to call for help, you can call 911 or 988.
911 will connect you with emergency dispatchers. This is the option you should select if you have harmed yourself or have immediate plans to attempt suicide, or see someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others.
During a mental health emergency, 988 will connect you directly to trained counselors who can assess your situation and try to get you help. The 988 line is available 24/7.
In some situations, people who call 988 will be assisted by both those who staff that line and your local 911 line.
According to Jared Auten, Crisis Line Director at Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ, the important distinction between 911 and 988 is that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides immediate support with the goal of reducing the need for further intervention.
“It is a direct connection to immediate support. It’s free and confidential. People have the option to remain anonymous if they choose,” said Auten.
Of the calls to the 988 hotline, only 5% result in the need for further help from law enforcement, this according to Michelle Calvert, Director of Quality and CCBHC with COMCARE of Sedgwick County.
“Just because you call 988, this does not mean you will be hospitalized, or police will appear at your door,” Calvert shared. “The goal is to keep our community safe in their homes.”
This may have you wondering where the 211 Information and Referral comes in. When you dial 2-1-1 in south central Kansas, United Way of the Plains is there with resources that could be available to you, including services for helping your physical and mental health. We can refer you to reduced cost mental health services in Wichita and other parts of Kansas. You can call 2-1-1, text 898-211 or chat online at unitedwayplains.org/211 to get help or information relevant to your situation.
The 211 line and 988 hotlines work together, and do so with great success.
If 988 has callers who are not in a mental health crisis but are asking for resources due to crisis in their lives, they can refer them over to us at 2-1-1. If we receive callers who are thinking of harming themselves then we transfer them over to 988. Our services complement each other.
IMPORTANT: If you are unsure if you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call 988. Our 211 Information and Referral staff can provide you with additional resources at a later time when it has been determined what is best for your situation.
Mental Health Focus
United Way of the Plains is focused on helping people with their mental health and those organizations moving the community forward in a positive direction. If you are a nonprofit organization seeking to improve access to mental health services, substance abuse counseling, coping strategies and other important aspects of mental health, please reach out to Abel Frederic, United Way Vice President of Community Impact, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (316) 267-1321. There may be resources available to help you and your organization’s goals.
“Many Kansans are facing serious issues around their mental health. It can affect the individual, their family, co-workers and many others. Organizations must work together to help people through a mental health emergency,” said Mentis Jr. “We know that solving the issues around mental health in our community aren’t going to happen easily, but we live in a great community, poised at finding a solution. Equally important, for those suffering from issues around their mental health, knowing that there are people who are here to listen and care about them is going to make a positive impact. The 988 hotline reaffirms this.”
What should I do if I see someone trying to kill themselves or how is at risk of hurting themselves? Should I call 911 or 988?
If you see someone in the act of harming themselves or who could harm others, call 911 immediately.
Calvert suggests taking a Mental Health First Aid class if you want to know more about helping someone through a mental health crisis. Please dial 2-1-1 to find a class near you.
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