Illinois is months away from the planned launch of a new suicide prevention hotline, and state lawmakers are scrambling to ensure it gets funded.
Under federal law, the new 988 hotline goes into effect in July. This is a simple three-digit emergency number like 911 that can replace the current one National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255.)
The state Senate this month passed a bill creating a statewide 988 trust fund, which is now in the statehouse. Governor JB Pritzker’s budget proposal invests $70 million in crisis response services for people who call 988, and $5 million specifically in this trust fund.
“This funding is critical as we need to be able to successfully get 988 off the ground,” said Senator Laura Fine, the main sponsor of the bill. “We need to make sure we’re able to hire the people to work the lines and make sure we have the services in place.”
Fine says the new 988 number will ensure people in mental health crisis can access care without dialing 911.
“The person on the other end of the phone (will determine) if we need to send someone, can we get you the help you need over the phone, (and) what kind of services you need,” said declared Fine. “The goal is to defuse and make sure people get the services they need and the care they need, and not put a mental health crisis in the hands of law enforcement so that we need it in the hands of mental health providers. ”
The new hotline is a years-long effort, and one that mental health care providers have long advocated for.
“We are delighted with this. It is really important that there is a full and well-known understanding of where people can seek services when they feel like they are in crisis or trying to negotiate a mental health system very complicated,” said Alexa James, CEO of NAMI Chicago.
The 988 hotline is expected to go live in July. James says there’s still a lot of work to do before that launch – and that a strong mental health care system can help prevent people from experiencing a mental health emergency.
“Creating a comprehensive crisis system is more than building a number. We need to know what’s on the other side of that call – where are people connecting, where are they going, have- We have community resources to meet that need? A big part of the answer to that question right now is ‘no,'” James said. “This is a very important first step. We’re going to need a lot of additional investment.