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Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and mental health professionals react to new 988 Lifeline

People facing 'mental health related emergencies' can now dial 988 for help.

The federal number debuted Saturday, July 16. It's connecting callers to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifelife and offering additional resources.

We were able to speak to local public safety officials and mental health professionals about their thoughts on the new lifeline.

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Cynthia Stava, tells me she's relieved a new resource is available for people that may be experiencing a mental health emergency, especially while professionals like herself are not available.

"If I'm not here, or they can't get a hold of me, I definitely want them to have a resource, and I think that's the resource that would be most effective for them," says Stava.

The new 988 line connects calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention line.

I asked Dr. Clark, CEO of the California Council of Behavioral Health Agencies why the the change in phone numbers is so significant.

“We know so many people have trouble remembering that number, that 988 is easy, you get it. It's 911 or 988 and allows people to streamline, you know their crises, call 988 instead of a 911 if it's a mental health crises," says Dr. Clark Harvey.

The California Council of Behavioral Health Agencies, represents four of the 13 call centers within the state of California.

Dr. Clack Harvey clarified that callers in California will receive help from professionals within the state when dialing 988.

"Our 13 crisis centers operate here within the state, but if someone from California is out of state and they have a California number, they will be rerouted back to California," says Dr. Clark Harvey.

According to data from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, California Lifeline call volume has increased by 67% since 2016.

Here in the Coachella Valley, Stava sees a need for mental health resources, especially for people that may not have the financial means to afford therapy.

"I know certainly when I've worked at other treatment centers, people were homeless, and so they came into our facility and they were really struggling and to me, suicidality was really a norm."

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration only 2% of Lifeline calls require a response from law enforcement or emergency medical services.

Sgt. Edward Soto with Riverside County Sheriff's Department shared his response to the new 988 line.

"Although our department members are trained to respond to individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis, sometimes people don’t need police intervention to help them navigate through their issues. The 988 suicide prevention hotline is a great resource for people just wanting to speak or chat with a mental health counselor," shared Sgt. Soto.

Mental health professionals like Dr. Clark Harvey hope that having so much attention around 988 will help remove the stigma surrounding mental health.

"When you think about people in black indigenous, people of color, bipoc communities, or LGBTQ plus communities. There have been a lot of stigma and shame around seeking mental health help," says Dr. Clark Harvey.

The resources provided by 988 are expected to expand in the coming years.

People can call or text the 988 number for themselves or if they're concerned about someone else who may need support.

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Bianca Ventura

Bianca Ventura joined KESQ News Channel 3 as a reporter in February 2022.


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