A nationwide, three-digit hotline enabling people experiencing suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis to get immediate help from a local source began operation Saturday.
People calling or texting 988 will be connected to a trained counselor who will “listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to resources if necessary,” according to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Trained operators will triage callers to ensure they receive appropriate services, ranging from suicide crisis counseling to mental-health de-escalation counseling over the phone, said Lisa Wong, acting director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services will serve as 988’s provider in Los Angeles County. It has been a recognized leader in whole-person mental health and crisis care for 80 years, including pioneering suicide hotlines.
A key component of this new service is the availability of trained psychiatric mobile crisis response teams who can be connected through the 988 line when necessary, Wong said.
The operators can also, if needed, dispatch a mobile crisis team or law enforcement when safety is of concern.
In preparation for the 988 launch, the county increased the number of teams of mental health professionals available to respond, according to Wong.
The department already operates Psychiatric Mobile Response Teams, unarmed mental health workers on duty between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m.
In the coming weeks those hours will be expanded to 24/7 with an expanded number of teams and the launch of Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, which will provide services outside of PMRT hours.
Both crisis response teams will be connected through the new 988 system, Wong said.
“In some cases, talking to a professional on the phone won’t be enough,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “That is why it is so important that we have teams of mental health professionals across the county who can drive out directly to a person in crisis, deescalate situations and connect people with long-term help.
“We need to expand these teams so that we have enough to respond to every mental health crisis across the county where they could be helpful and get there quickly so that it is a viable alternative to 911.”