988 - Monday Musing, July 25, 2022
988. Being on vacation on The Cape for two weeks in the middle of summer, it might be easy to overlook national news. Not so when a topic near and dear to my heart surfaces. A new national mental health crisis response number was activated on July 16th – 988. It is reported that mental illness and the number of deaths by suicide is higher than ever before – and tragically, the statistics are rising. First responders through the long-established 911 system have done their best to respond to emergency situations, but it is clear that they lack the education and training specific to those in a mental health crisis. 988 marks a historic opportunity to ensure that the growing number of people in crisis are able to receive a more appropriate response, and an ability to access immediate mental health services.
My vocational work history prior to ministry included serving as a law enforcement officer and later as a psychiatric social worker. Former colleagues in police work lament how they feel ill-equipped to properly handle calls from those in mental health crisis. Although Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) has given many law enforcement officers skills that have helped many people in crisis, CIT is merely an introduction to mental illness and falls short of what those in mental health crisis need long term. COVID-19 has accentuated mental illness with 41% of adults reporting anxiety or depression disorders last year. The statistics for those with mental illness are pronounced in young people and those in rural areas where access to services is limited. 988 represents a lifeline.
Our Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged (WISE) mental health ministry team has been active for several months providing educational resources for us in our pursuit of being a WISE congregation for mental health. As part of their work, the team has: highlighted a number of mental health educational videos, held a panel discussion with consumers and providers of mental health services, and drafted a WISE covenant, which we as a congregation will vote to accept at a special congregational meeting that the Cabinet is planning to be held on September 11th.
The launch of a new 988 hotline highlights the need for mental health services, but let us not presume that the infrastructure and services are at the ready and in place 24/7 nationwide. The 988 launch is in its infancy, and it will require states to build crisis call centers to meet the growing need. As a community of faith dedicated to serving those on the margins of society, let us pay attention to the needs of those with mental illness. We lift up our prayers, financial support, and advocacy for those in need. We share not only our kindness, but also God’s love, and ours – you can’t place a number on that, but 988 is a good start. See you in church!