988, the new “911 for mental health,” launched yesterday, and it’s nothing to celebrate, according to its reviews. 988 does not exist to offer coping tools, provide referrals to local mental health resources, or hold space for big existential discussions about the point of carrying on. Hotline staffers use a set of suicide screening questions to decide whether to initiate an “active rescue.”
The National Suicide Prevention Line calls the police on approximately 20 percent of callers; the police use geotracking technology to determine the caller’s location. 988 reduces the likelihood that a cadre of police with guns drawn will respond to a mental health crisis, but 988 will arrange for some police or a mobile crisis team to transport the person to an emergency room or psychiatric facility. The emergency rooms do not provide crisis intervention services; they are overcrowded and chaotic.
In psychiatric hospitals, mental health is approached from a wholly biological and authoritarian perspective, with the premise that the brain is the problem, excessive medicine is the cure, and non-compliance is punished by physical injury to victims. Let’s ask folks, “What would aid look like to you?” rather than dialing 988. Suicidal thoughts typically indicate that many things have gone wrong in a person’s life and that their current circumstances feel completely out of control.
Let’s assist folks in finding solutions to their problems rather than isolate that person in a situation where they lack legal standing. Each person’s definition of “assistance” would vary case by case, but 988 treats everyone the same way: by seizing their authority.