A Pew Research Center survey of American teenagers found 13% of them experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, up from 8% in 2007.

988 makes it easier to get help for a mental health crisis, but NC needs more providers

A Pew Research Center survey of American teens found that 13% had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, up from 8% in 2007.

A Pew Research Center survey of American teens found that 13% had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, up from 8% in 2007.


A new national suicide prevention lifeline – 988 – went live in mid-July, replacing the old 10-digit number offered by most states. North Carolina saw an immediate surge in calls.

Proponents say this shows two things: the new number is easier to use and the state still needs more mental health care providers, especially for young people.

Here are answers to some common questions about the 988.

How it works?

The 988 is made up of counselors trained 24 hours a day and reachable by telephone or SMS. When a call or text comes in to 988 from North Carolina, the advisor answering is most likely also in North Carolina, although if all advisors in North Carolina are busy, the call will go to an advisor from another state.

People who are hard of hearing can reach Lifeline by calling 711 then 988. Spanish-speaking counselors are available at 1-888-628-9454. From 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. counselors are available with training to help support LGBTQ callers 25 and under.

The North Carolina 988 call center is located in Greenville, in partnership with REAL Crisis Intervention, Inc. It was established with $1.8 million in grants from the federal Community Mental Health Block Grant and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Anyone in mental health-related distress or concerned for a loved one in distress can call or text the number or use the chat available at 988lifeline.org/chat. The service is free and confidential.

What happens if you call or text 988?

Usually within seconds a counselor will respond and help determine the best way to help resolve the caller’s issue. If the person has injured themselves and needs immediate medical attention, or is in imminent danger of harming themselves, the counselor may request assistance from EMS or law enforcement through a dispatcher local.

However, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), less than 2% of calls require a connection to emergency services. Most people need a listening ear and information on how to find additional services nearby.

Renee Rader, deputy director of policy and programs for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said counselors are trained in de-escalation and that a conversation is often enough to resolve the immediate crisis of the appellant.

Counselors can then share the names of providers and agencies that can help support the caller, such as behavioral health care, veterans services and housing.

Calls, chats and SMS are not tracked. For some people, contact with emergency services can be traumatic and dangerous, and whenever possible, Lifeline recommends alternative options such as collaborating on a safety plan, using mobile crisis teams, collaborating with relatives or professionals of the individual, or supporting the individual to get to a crisis stabilization unit, an emergency service or urgent care.

What was the response to switching to 988?

In the second half of July and August, the most recent months for which statistics are available, the NCDHHS reports that calls to the North Carolina Suicide Prevention Line dropped from an average of 93 per day under the old 10-digit number. at 160 per day using 988.

The biggest increase in users, DHHS said, is among young people, with a notable increase in calls from children ages 8 to 12.

Rader of DHHS said this is likely due to the ease of remembering 988 and the text and chat options, which appeal particularly to young people.

Rader said the state hopes the availability of the 988 service will help reduce child suicide, which is on the rise. A Child Mortality Task Force report in June showed that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among children aged 17 and under in 2020. Among children aged 10 to 14, it was the leading cause of death this year.

Can you get long-term help by calling 988?

Call center counselors cannot provide long-term help, but they do have a list of services provided in areas where callers live. The problem is that there are not enough providers in North Carolina, and the increase in calls since the switch to 988 has highlighted this problem.

Nationally, researchers say that in 2019 and 2020, nearly 21% of adults — more than 50 million people — suffered from a mental illness. More than half were not receiving treatment. More than 16% of young people aged 12 to 17 reported having experienced at least one major depressive episode during the previous year.

North Carolina ranks 12th in the nation in the prevalence of adult mental illness, but 38th in the nation in access to mental health care, according to the national nonprofit Mental Health. America.

The NC DHHS said in March that 91 of the state’s 100 counties lacked mental health care providers, whether countywide or just in a particular area or among a specific population. Patients may have to wait weeks or months for a first appointment.

What are we doing to improve access to care in North Carolina?

NC DHHS said it continues to increase the use of certified peer support specialists, with more than 4,000 now available in North Carolina. The state recently awarded a grant of nearly $4 million to eight community providers to increase the use of certified peers.

The state has also provided more than $4 million in grants to fund 15 mobile units across the state to provide screening, assessment, treatment, primary care and recovery support services.

The agency also said it was funding addiction medicine fellowships, professional development grants, continuing education courses and provider training, and was launching a pilot project for mobile outreach, Response, Engagement, and Stabilization (MORES) with funding through Duke Endowment and a Mental Health Block Grant in seven counties.

Some private insurers try to help. In July, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced they would invest $2 million to support 11 organizations across the state to improve access to care in rural and marginalized communities and in areas where providers are scarce.

The company said the funding is part of its efforts to address racial, health and geographic disparities in North Carolina and supports the company’s goal of improving access to behavioral health care in rural communities and underserved by 25% in five years.

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Martha Quillin is a generalist reporter at The News & Observer and writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held positions throughout the newsroom since 1987.

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