Chester County sees rollout of new national 988 mental health hotline as a chance to improve its own crisis response system

In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. With suicides on the rise, the government wants to make the national crisis hotline easier to reach. Once implemented, people will just need to dial 988 to seek help. Currently, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255). Callers are routed to one of 163 crisis centers, where counselors answered 2.2 million calls last year

File photo: A man uses a cell phone in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. People in crisis and those trying to help them will have a new three-digit number, 988, to reach the national suicide prevention network starting in July. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

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The United States has a new mental health crisis hotline. Starting Saturday, dialing 988 will connect callers experiencing mental distress across the country to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Back in 2020, Congress chose the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Mental health advocates nationwide and across the state of Pennsylvania see it as a crucial first step to revamping the country’s mental health care system.

Chester County sees this as an opportunity to evaluate its own system and upgrade its mental and behavioral health infrastructure, so county officials are promoting the rollout of the new hotline.

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“We want to make sure it is as easy to connect to someone that can help as possible and we’re certainly excited about being able to support that. I think that having that in place will in this time of need that we have around our behavioral health needs in the county will certainly be of added benefit to our residents,” said Pat Bokovitz, the director of Chester County’s Department of Human Services.

Given the closure of Brandywine Hospital back in January and talks of the Coatesville VA Medical Center possibly facing a similar fate, the current state of mental health care in Chester County doesn’t inspire a lot confidence in county leaders and community members

To address the need for adequate mental health care in Chesco, officials have recently rolled out two surveys to help the county get a better grasp at how its mental health care crisis system can meet the needs of residents.

“We have two surveys — one’s an adult and one’s a youth. They’re structured to ask questions on individuals experiencing the mental health crisis system in a recent past. We are looking to not only have 988 in place this Saturday, but more broadly make some additional enhancements to the mental health crisis response system,” Bokovitz said.

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He said that feedback from the surveys is “extremely important.” The county already received more than 800 responses from the Youth Survey since its launch earlier in July and the adult survey was just released this week.

“We’ve done a lot of research and analysis and interviewing key stakeholders, but we just want to give everyone a chance to weigh in and to help us develop the most meaningful mental health crisis response system that we can that we can establish,” Bokovitz said.

The adult and youth mental health surveys are anonymous and currently available online. Once the survey is finished, the results will be shared with the county’s planning committee.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889. Help can also be accessed through the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741-741.

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