The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved two motions designed to improve the county’s response to threats of suicide and mental crises.

Supervisor Janice Hahn said the measures were part of a broader effort to revamp the county’s mental health response.

“Too many times, people in mental health crisis end up in our jails, and too often … their stories end in tragedy,” Hahn said. “That is why Los Angeles County has been trying to strengthen our alternative crisis response system.”

Based on the first motion, the county will co-sponsor Assembly Bill 988, the Miles Hall Lifeline Act, which in intended to begin the process of establishing 9-8-8 as a nationwide suicide prevention hotline number. This will enable a non-law enforcement response to mental health crises.

“9-8-8 is going to be a game changer,” Hahn told her colleagues. “Everyone knows to call 9-1-1 in an emergency when they need the police or an ambulance, and now we’re going to have an equivalent, easy-to-remember, three-digit phone number dedicated solely to mental health emergencies.”

Hahn said co-sponsoring the bill will allow the county to weigh in on the details. The number is expected to go live in the summer of 2022.

Separately, Hahn proposed connecting suicide prevention counselors who operate the local arm of a national suicide prevention hotline with county workers authorized to dispatch an in-person psychiatric team. The plan is to also allow workers on a county mental health line to refer calls to the specially-trained suicide prevention counselors.

Various county call centers field cries for help.

“Calling the (Department of Mental Health) Help Line can link someone to a psychiatric mobile response team for dispatch, calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can connect someone to a Didi Hirsch professional trained in suicide counseling, and calling 911 can elicit a response from law enforcement or paramedics,” Hahn’s motion read in part.

“These call systems have been existing primarily in silos without the ability to interact with one another. This results in a fragmented crisis response system where calls for help are unable to be appropriately triaged to the right place.”

Creating connections among the various systems will allow callers to get the most appropriate professional help possible until the 9-8-8 number is implemented, when calls will automatically be routed to the best service provider.

“As the nation’s premiere suicide prevention center, Didi Hirsch is thrilled to streamline how youth and adults across our county access trauma-informed crisis supports and mental health care, in partnership with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, LAPD and LA Sheriff’s Department,” said Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services CEO Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger. “The state of California and nation are watching these cutting-edge models meeting community needs, with 988 and 911 call diversion rolling out together.”

On a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board separately directed the Department of Mental Health to assess the mental health impact on Los Angeles County residents of closures of schools, workplaces and other community resources amid the coronavirus pandemic and report back on what should be done to aid recovery.

Barger said calls to the county’s mental health help line increased by nearly 50% in 2020 from the year before.

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