By: Bill Hayes LCSW-R (ret.), NAMI Delaware and Otsego
[Editor’s note: Bill Hayes submitted this important column with details about the new ‘988’ telephone number for mental health emergencies.]
In mid-July, there will be a new option for getting help with urgent mental health situations. While 911 will continue to be the key number to call for medical and crime emergencies, a different number will connect callers to a specialist in mental health: 988.
Years in the planning, and recently boosted by new funding and motivation, 988 will become the go-to number nationally for mental health crises. 988 will connect with the existing Suicide Prevention Line, and with a network of regional and local crisis services. 988 is not limited to suicide issues. States are working to strengthen services, staffing, and expansion of coverage to regions without robust services. There will inevitably be challenges during the transition, including recruiting and training, gaps in availability of local follow up supports for individuals and their families, adjusting interagency protocols, and informing the general public about the new arrangements.
NAMI of NY State (www.naminys.org), an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, supports the idea of “mental health responses to mental health situations.” With limited training and support for assessing and dealing with emotionally-troubled community members, law enforcement personnel – from dispatchers to road patrol officers — do what they can to respond. Their capacity for compassion and patience – and perhaps personal experience — is important for all concerned. But professional preparation such as Crisis Intervention Training, plus regular refresher updates, can lower the risk of avoidable injury or incarceration.
This should carry as much weight as commonly-required initial and annual weapons training. Even with the new 988 initiative, CIT for dispatchers and road patrol officers remains relevant, and should be a marker for best practice, as community policing reforms move forward.
It has been one year since all New York municipalities filed plans for reforms to their police-related policies and practices.
Across the state, some plans included things such as recommendations for training, clearer standards on use of force, greater emphasis on cultural awareness, recognition of implicit bias, and commitment to community-based committees for periodic review and update of progress toward stated goals. Some plans reflected minimal citizen input, recited existing law enforcement policies and activities, and little suggestion for change.
All 492 plans, statewide, can be found at www.policereform.ny.gov. Locally, these included the City of Oneonta, Village of Cooperstown, all area counties, and all others with police forces.
On behalf of the families and friends of community members with mental health issues, we urge that the entities which created and formally voted to endorse and submit their plans, reconvene their reform committees to review progress, update their suggestions for best practice, and report openly to the public on the process and results.