Biden Administration Transitions to New 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to Help People in Mental Health Crisis

In a major step towards improving our nation’s response to people experiencing mental health crises, on July 16, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) transitioned to the new, national 988 dialing code for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Most people in crisis call the general 911 emergency line for help. Although this system is convenient for deploying first responders, in most places, it is an inefficient way to connect people to behavioral health services, and often results in law enforcement being dispatched to situations that do not require a police response. The new 988 dialing code directly connects people to trained crisis responders within the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network, creating a valuable opportunity to increase connections to compassionate and accessible care.

This opportunity is significant for law enforcement and others in the criminal justice system, who have traditionally had limited means for connecting people to crisis services. Unfortunately, people in contact with the criminal justice system have higher rates of behavioral health needs and are at an elevated risk of suicide. Rates of mental health conditions are 3 to 5 times higher among people who are incarcerated than people who are not, and rates of substance use conditions are 12 to 14 times higher. Suicide risk is 62 percent higher for those who have been incarcerated as compared to the general population and risk of death is higher overall.

Fortunately, the transition to the 988 Lifeline provides an easier way to connect people to crisis care.  Law enforcement, jail, courts, and reentry service providers can now incorporate information about the 988 Lifeline in their planning strategies to better ensure people have the resources to be successful and weather mental health challenges.

The best way to reduce the overincarceration of people with mental illness and substance use disorders is to keep them out of the justice system in the first place. The new 988 Lifeline is the first step in an unprecedented effort to create an integrated crisis continuum that will expand access to proper treatment and advance comprehensive, cross-systems change to help people in crisis.

About the authors

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Director of Justice and Health Initiatives, Behavioral Health
Hallie Fader-Towe works with local and state policymakers to craft policies, processes, and programs that bring research-informed approaches to their jurisdictions. In her positions with the CSG Justice Center, she has worked with jurisdictions around the country on collaborative, data-driven
planning and implementation efforts to address criminal justice functions from initial detention through reentry, including a focus on people with mental illnesses. She has also managed the development of training materials on mental health courts and on judicial responses to the prevalence of individuals with mental illnesses involved with the criminal justice system. She has written on court case processing, competency to stand trial, dispute systems design for state trial courts, pretrial responses to people with mental illnesses, information sharing between criminal justice and mental health systems, and mental health court design and implementation. Before joining the CSG Justice Center, she was a management consultant with McKinsey & Company in New York. Hallie received a BA from Brown University and a JD from Harvard Law School. 
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    Former Content Development Specialist, Communications and External Affairs
    Amelia Vorpahl led the writing and strategic development of an array of content that advances the CSG Justice Center's goals, including policy reports, fact sheets, interactive tools, and web content. Before joining the CSG Justice Center, Amelia worked on the
    policy and communications teams of several major advocacy organizations. In her previous role as senior communications manager at Oceana, Amelia led media outreach, content creation, and messaging strategy for various regional and federal campaigns. Amelia holds a BA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and an MPA from the University of Texas at Austin.
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