Health officials combat misinformation about mental health hotline 9-8-8

Madison, WI – New 9-8-8 Mental Health Crisis Hotline It was launched a little over a week ago It has already seen a 45% increase in calls nationwide compared to the week before the launch.

The new number operates on the same old suicide hotline system 1-800-273-TALK but has been moved in an effort to make it easier to remember. The number is now also available to anyone experiencing any kind of mental health crisis, not just suicidal thoughts. People looking for help can now also text or chat online with advisors.

But while the 9-8-8 launch was apparently successful, some viral social media posts have questioned the safety of using the hotline due to concerns that it could lead to police intervention or involuntary medical treatment.

A viral post titled “988 Is Not Friendly” falsely warns that the risks of using 9-8-8 can include “police intervention, humiliating involuntary treatment in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals, the use of medical violence to punish “uncooperative” or distressed patients, and forced sedation Serious medical debt, life-changing trauma.

Carolyn Crehan Newman, a crisis services coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, says she understands why people are reluctant to use the new hotline, but there is no reason to.

“Understandably, people are going to be nervous about contacting a service for something as vulnerable as their mental health, I think we all feel that way, but the service is here to help people,” said Kerihan Newman.

Although calling 9-8-8 will likely result in police intervention, Kerihan Neumann says it’s rare, and sending law enforcement is a last resort.

“These cases are really rare and it’s the last absolute outcome anyone would hope for, but it is the duty of mental health professionals and law enforcement to ensure that people survive and receive support,” said Kerihan Newman. .

According to her, only 2% of Wisconsin 9-8-8 calls end in a response from the police, and when they do, it’s because the caller is at imminent risk of harming themselves or others.

“These are the people who make statements that include, ‘I’m going to die tonight. I will use this kind of means. “That’s how I’m going to do it,” Kerihan Newman said. “These are blatant statements where this person is in imminent danger.”

She says the vast majority of callers do not fall into this category and can be assisted by phone, text or chat by counselors trained in how to handle difficult mental health crises.

“These counselors are ready and open to statements like that. If I say, there’s no hope. My life is so hard right now. The past few years have been so hard. I’m so depressed and can’t get out of bed,” the police don’t come to your door, said Kerihan Newman.

The Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Wisconsin, Mary Kay Battaglia, says 9-8-8 was actually designed as an alternative to police involvement.

“The whole idea of ​​9-8-8 is that immediately the person on the other line is a trained counselor who knows this is a mental health crisis,” Battaglia said. “We want to transform the process of having to call a police officer or receive a police officer into your home when you are in a mental health crisis.”

And in the rare cases where a personal response is needed, the police do not always respond. Growing numbers of mental health response teams across the state, such as the CARES teams in Madison, are also able to respond to calls.

RELATED: Madison adds second response team and second stop to CARES team

“Nobody wants the police to come to their door, but we often need to take care of people when they are in a mental health crisis and provide a response,” Battaglia said. “The whole idea of ​​9-8-8 is to take it out of the legal realm and law enforcement and put it more into the medical focus. It is a health response, not a law enforcement response.”

The 9-8-8 hotline is available via phone, text, or online chat. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, feel free to use the new number.