Oklahoma mental health leaders sing of hope for improved crisis care this Suicide Prevention Awareness Month up to 988.
The revised three-digit Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launched nationwide in July, and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says the one-stop number “curts to its burgeoning efforts to facilitate access to immediate and professional mental care. health assistance and coordination with local services.
In its first two months, 988 received about 5,000 calls from Oklahomans, 30% of which were spurred on by suicidal thoughts, according to data provided by the Department of Mental Health.
Carrie Slatton-Hodges, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, said the hotline is a major step forward in preventing suicides in Oklahoma, which is the second leading cause of death among residents aged 10 to 34 in the state and ninth overall.
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In 2020, 869 Oklahomans committed suicide, an increase of nearly 9% from the previous year. Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the state were suicides, according to data from the U.S. Department of Mental Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Suicide prevention doesn’t happen in a vacuum and must be part of a continuum of care, Slatton-Hodges said.
“Lifeline 988 is the first stop,” she said in a press release.
Although some calls save lives, Slatton-Hodges said some people just need someone to talk to. If a caller needs more assistance, call takers can dispatch mobile response teams and schedule appointments with local providers.
All callers will receive a follow-up call to ensure their needs have been met.
“Connecting people to services is key,” Slatton-Hodges said.
Difference in Oklahoma
The 988 deployment represents a “critical moment” in the state’s transition to comprehensive mental health care, said Zack Stoycoff, executive director of the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative.
With federal and state funding, Oklahoma is developing a comprehensive crisis care system that includes investing in mobile response teams, crisis care centers, and a number of other contracted services throughout the state.
More than 70% of communities in the state did not have enough mental health care providers to serve residents in 2021 according to federal guidelines AFSPbut the welcome change should elevate Oklahoma to the norm.
Now Department of Mental Health spokesman Jeff Dismukes said he couldn’t keep up with the expansion of emergency recovery and crisis centers across the state — there were 37 as of Friday. .
“We’re very optimistic about all the work that’s going on,” Stoycoff said.
Mental health must be at the heart of all societal plans because it is “at the heart of almost every outcome that we all want to see in our community,” Stoycoff said. This means getting appropriate treatment early enough in the crisis that the person does not end up in criminal justice, emergency rooms or homelessness.
Law enforcement officials have been advocating for many changes included in the state’s plan for years, Dismukes said, including the expansion of mobile crisis teams staffed by licensed mental health professionals and the provision of private transportation to psychiatric care.
He pointed to the success of criminal diversion programs, drug courts being one example, which have helped state legislators embark on the expansion of prevention.
“It’s a shift in the understanding of behavioral health; what he always was and what we know he is,” Dismukes said. “It’s a medical problem; it’s about brain health. It’s part of the stigma surrounding a lot of the diseases we talk about and substance use issues—we’ve criminalized it. Some saw it as a law enforcement issue, and I think it created barriers for people who need care and can contact them when they need it.
“The fact is, the back of a police cruiser really isn’t the best place for someone in a behavioral health crisis.”
The latter term, Dismukes said, is undefined for 988.
It’s a hotline for “all things behavioral health,” he said, not just for people in crisis but also for those looking to support them. Anyone can call, and a licensed professional can help and dispatch a local team if needed. The 988 Crisis Line is available in English and Spanish by text or call.
According to a primer on 988 produced by Stoycoff’s agency, and for the rest, locally dispatched mobile crisis teams are able to solve problems in the field about 70% of the time.
Calls to 988 lasted an average of 20 to 30 minutes each, and more than 250 crisis teams were dispatched in July and August, according to data from the Department of Mental Health.
“Hopefully people will call before they reach this crisis; when they don’t know where to turn,” Dismukes said.
Difference in Tulsa
Some areas of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, have implemented piecemeal local crisis response systems in recent years, and the deployment of 988 has raised questions about how they fit into the new model.
The state has awarded contracts and partnered with numerous agencies to expand its response services and the reach of mobile crisis teams, including with Tulsa Family and Children’s Services.
F&CS has operated its own hotline and mobile response through COPES, Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services, for several years, and this will continue even with the addition of the 988 contract, said F&CS spokesperson Dee Harris. .
“We are thrilled to be part of the 988 Mobile Team and also the Helpline,” Harris said. “It’s about getting people to the resources they need to get better, and 988 is just one more way to get there.”
Instead of using previously-hired contractors to answer national hotline calls in the state, Oklahoma solicited bids to find a facilitator for 988 because leaders knew they wanted it to be. more than a suicide hotline, Dismukes said.
Based in Arizona Solari Crisis & Personal Services now operates the state call center, with several employees in Oklahoma City. In the event of a deluge, COPES is one of two existing call centers in the state contracted as backup, Harris said.
Solari is also able to dispatch the mobile COPES team to respond to local calls.
In July, COPES fielded four Solari replacement calls and fielded its mobile response teams 28 times for 988 calls, Harris said, and there’s no indication the organization will be strained by additional service requests.
“COPES is growing and continues to add clinicians and expand,” Harris said. “We have no problem with the staff.”
Family and Children’s Services’ multitude of local crisis continuum services remain in operation. COPES is still getting and answering calls from established customers and community partners, but 988 is a great place to start for anyone, Harris said.
“We now offer same-day, next-day care,” Harris said. “If you don’t know who to call or can’t remember a number, 988 is the way to go.”