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EDITORIAL: Help just three digits away for those in throes of mental health crisis

Las Vegas Sun - 7/23/2022

Jul. 23—Between the social, medical and economic uncertainty of the ongoing COVID pandemic; the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the increasingly mean-spirited and polarized nature of American politics; and the daily acts of violence and hatred in our schools and communities, its normal to feel disheartened, down or depressed.

It's normal.

Fortunately, this week, we got a new reason to celebrate after four years of collaboration between local, state and federal officials led to the launch of a new nationwide 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

The hotline went live one week ago today, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Whether we realize it or not, every single one of us knows someone affected by mental illness. And many of us have lost a friend or loved one to a mental health crisis.

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University found a startling and dramatic increase in suicide attempts across the United States between 2000 and 2020.

The data surrounding early adolescents aged 10-12 was particularly troubling, with a five-fold increase in suicide attempts among this age group during the 20-year time frame of the study.

The easier we can make it for those in need to get help, the better, especially as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic prompted isolating lockdowns, created tremendous economic insecurity, and raised fears about personal health and well-being, as well as our risk to others.

Preliminary findings show that the COVID pandemic increased the risk of mental health challenges and suicide in teens and adolescents even further, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointing to a 50% increase in suicide attempts since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

Now that the new hotline has launched, those experiencing a mental health crisis or contemplating self-harm or suicide, help is just a simple, three-digit phone call away. Dial or text 988.

Just as dialing 911 connects callers to emergency responders for criminal and medical emergencies, by dialing 988, callers can connect with trained mental health crisis specialists at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support and crisis counseling to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. Since its inception in 2005, it has engaged in innovative public messaging, development of best practices in mental health, creative partnerships and more to improve crisis services and advance suicide prevention for all.

The lifeline is composed of a national network of over 180 local crisis centers, including Crisis Support Services of Nevada (CSS-NV), which has been the Silver State's statewide call center since the 1960s.

To prepare for the transition to 988, CSS-NV has increased its staff, all of whom are highly trained in assisting with a range of mental health crises for all age demographics. They have also continued to participate in the national lifeline network, which means no call, text or chat in Nevada will go unanswered.

For almost a decade, mental health advocates have asked for an easy-to-remember three-digit number for people experiencing a mental health crisis. We now have one, and if that saves even a single life, it is reason to celebrate.

We urge anyone experiencing any type of mental health crisis to reach out to a compassionate specialist for support. People may also call 988 to help a loved one in the midst of a mental health or substance use crisis.

We hope the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline becomes as well recognized as 911, both for people experiencing mental health crises and family members who worry that a loved one is experiencing one.

Help is just three numbers away. Share the 988 number with family and friends. It could save a life.


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