Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Are Operators Standing By?


Today is the first day of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session. Did you have that marked on your calendar?  I did, because I’ve been meaning to write about an issue that I hope will get some prompt attention (and major funding) between now and Sine Die.

I honestly hadn’t known anything about this until reader of the blog Debbie Nix reached out to me about:

…the new MD 988 crisis line and the need for funding the call centers and related crisis services to support such a call center.  Our families and kids deserve better than ending up in the back of a police car handcuffed when having mental health or behavioral health crisis. 

Maryland legislators need to hear from individuals and organizations who support the MD 988 Crisis Line about setting aside funding to enable it to function successfully. This will be the number that one can call for all kinds of crisis services,  including mental and behavioral health crises. 

My memory was jogged Monday when I noticed that HoCo nonprofit Sobar was running a brief survey soliciting ideas about how we, as a community, can best respond to these very same circumstances.

Tell us what you think. What will improve the community response when you, a loved one or neighbor is in distress due to mental health or substance use?

Help improve services for mental health and substance use by sharing your ideas and views. Many people are working together to shape a better approach for the region.

Please take this survey to tell us what you think:

If you are interested in sharing your ideas, just click the link. Your responses can be 100 per cent anonymous if you wish.

Now, I’ve done some looking around to get more information on the 988 Crisis Line. The website Fund Maryland 988  is the online component of an advocacy campaign to do exactly that:

Beginning in summer 2022, 988 will be the new easy-to-remember phone number for the National Suicide Prevention and Behavioral Health Crisis Hotline.* 988 will be available around the clock, 365 days a year. Calls to the line will go to counselors at local crisis call centers who can provide free, confidential advice and emotional support for people in distress. Counselors can also help connect people to community mental health and substance use services at moments of crisis.

Here’s the catch. That will only happen if the State Legislature funds it. A telephone number alone cannot work magic or miracles. There have to be qualified, well-trained counselors to make it work, plus coordinated crisis services. Here are the stated goals of Fund Maryland 988.

We are calling on Maryland legislators to:

Establish 988 as Maryland’s behavioral health crisis hotline for mental health and substance use crises;

Establish a state fund to invest in 24/7 call centers, mobile crisis teams, crisis stabilization centers, and related crisis response services; and 

Allocate an initial $10 million in 2022 to the fund to ensure that call centers are adequately staffed and available 24/7.

Proponents for the 988 Crisis Line funding are encouraging residents to sign a petition in support of this measure. You can learn more and sign here if you are in support:

Petition to the Maryland General Assembly

To me this issue has two very simple components: 1) the 988 Crisis Line model is a better response to mental health and substance use crises than what we have in place. 2) It won’t run unless we “put gas in the tank,” as it were.

I’d love to be able to stir up some interest for this issue and get people talking about it. Can you help? If you are in support, please sign the petition. If you want to do more, write you state legislators. And an easy this to do would be to share the petition on social media. You might even share this post. 

Whe it comes to supporting Marylanders in crisis, we need to put our money where our mouth(piece) is.

*Congress has already authorized the states to designate 988 as the new phone number for mental health and substance use crises which will greatly increase the number of calls for help.

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