New lifeline in Washington now available for Native Americans and Alaska Natives in crisis - State of Reform

New lifeline in Washington now available for Native Americans and Alaska Natives in crisis – State of Reform

A New Washington safety rope which explicitly serves Native American and Alaska Native callers is now available to help those in crisis.

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The Native and Strong Lifeline, a new state-related feature 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, went live on November 10. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) held a media briefing Thursday to celebrate the initiative.

DOH Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said the line will help prevent deaths from mental illness.

“We know that mental illness kills,” Shah said. “And we have lost far too many lives to mental illness. We have lost far too many of our young people because they have not had the capacity to join us in times of crisis. It is the first state in the country to have this line. Whenever we have community-wide problems and challenges, we need to have community-wide solutions. And that’s what it represents today.

Rochelle Williams is the Tribal Operations Manager for Volunteers of America of Western Washington (VAWW), which will operate the Native and Strong Lifeline. She said there is now a new culture of healing taking root in Indian communities.

“For the first time, Indigenous mental health is being highlighted in a big way,” Williams said. “[VAWW] is the basis on which this important and indispensable work takes place. Historically, as Indigenous people, we have been an underserved population when it comes to many things, almost everything, but especially our own mental health.

It can feel like the first inhabitants of this land are always considered the last, if at all. Not anymore. Our needs will no longer go unnoticed. We will no longer remain invisible, not here, not now, never again.

The Native and Strong Lifeline will have an all-Indigenous staff of 15, including 13 crisis counselors, Williams said.

“There are 13 Indigenous crisis counselors who are the core of the lifeline and come from many tribal nations,” Williams said. “Most of our advisers have experienced difficulties and difficulties. They know healing and they know resilience even better.

Ingrid Ulrey, District 10 Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noted that President Joe Biden identified mental health as the defining health issue of our time during his State of the Union Address.

“It wasn’t just words,” Ulrey said. “Behind these words, the president and this administration have increased funding for mental health 18 times. This federal funding enabled the construction of 988, which brings together 200 state and local call centers nationwide, including this call center run by Volunteers of America and 2 others in Washington State.

Ulrey noted that Washington is among only 4 states that have taken the initiative to raise federal funds and levy a nominal charge on each telephone line plus an excise tax ensure long-term sustainable funding for 988.

SAMHSA recently announcement a $35 million funding initiative to connect 988 vital services to tribal communities and to facilitate collaboration with tribal and state providers, urban Indian organizations, law enforcement and other emergency crisis responders in a way that respects tribal sovereignty on a national scale, Ulrey added.

“Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most people served by Lifeline are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful,” Ulrey said.

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