The national mental health hotline is in full swing in the South Bay, and officials hope it will get those in crisis the help they need faster.
Modeled after 911, the new three-digit 988 number is designed for those who need mental health crisis services. The program became law in October 2020 and launched nationwide last month.
Santa Clara County officials unveiled its new 988 call center this week, which also houses other programs such as non-emergency services for behavioral health and a navigation center to connect and follow up on callers with questions. Services are offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, and calls are confidential, officials added.
“Santa Clara County has been on the front end of what we’re doing relative to mental health,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “What’s exciting about 988 is it will give us an opportunity to respond to people more quickly and with more specificity about their needs.”
The national number launched mid-July as Santa Clara County faces a mental health and substance use crisis. The county has seen a record increase in suicides and drug overdoses compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have seen an unprecedented number of youth suffering from severe depression and anxiety. For adults, the issue is further exacerbated by an inadequate number of beds in treatment facilities and the overuse of prisons to incarcerate those in need of treatment.
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Santa Clara County is the one of two counties in the state to run its own 988 center. Kern County also runs its crisis center, and nonprofits run the remaining 11 centers in California. Local officials say the hotline is a game changer that offers one number to call, compared to previously needing to review pages of numbers to find services.
“Having all the services on the same system lets us document the demands of the calls, the time of the calls and the length of the calls, so we’ll be better able to staff during peak hours,” said Bruce Copley, director of the crisis center. “This is really about letting the teams come together and begin to collaborate and identify where there may be gaps.”
Per federal law, 988 is staffed 24/7 with trained mental health professionals who aim to answer all calls within 30 seconds. The number will remove police from the picture—replacing them with counselors who can assess the situation and provide appropriate support programs. Santa Clara County has 10 full-time counselors and 75 trained volunteers working the 988 number.
The county has three mobile crisis response teams, including the Mobile Crisis Response Team for adults, the Mobile Response Stabilization Service Team for youth and young adults, and the Trusted Response Urgent Support Team to serve everyone. The last team is anticipated to launch in the fall.
For callers not in a crisis who need information on available services, 988 will transfer them to the navigation center—a new program to make mental health and substance use services more accessible. According to the county, 20% of all calls to the crisis hotline are for information only.
“A lot of times folks are just trying to understand how to get services, or how they would reconnect with programs they have been referred to,” Alicia Anderson, manager of the navigation center, told San José Spotlight. “It’s a big system, and it can be a little confusing sometimes.”
The navigation center, which opened last week, receives more than 30 calls a day, Anderson added.
Officials said the navigation center will help the county better understand community needs through follow-up calls.
“Navigators are able to do an in-depth assessment and they will do a follow up with residents about services,” Copley said. “They work with residents over time until they successfully get them connected with whatever resources (are) needed.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
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