By Leah Harris
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the biggest news in suicide prevention this year is the launch of the new, easy-to-remember 988 number for mental health crisis and suicide prevention.
In the first few weeks since 988 went live in July, local crisis call center Alameda CSS has seen a 30 percent increase in calls, and has seen longer talk times as well, according to a recent report in El Tecolote by Mara Cavallaro. But among communities most harmed by police violence and involuntary interventions, including Black, Indigenous, People of Color, disabled and trans people, some have taken to social media to express their reluctance to trust the new system.
An intended purpose of 988 is to reduce police engagement with those in a mental health crisis. Crisis call centers may resort to what are known as “nonconsensual interventions” in a small percentage of cases where the caller is determined to be at imminent risk. In such situations, responders will involve emergency services and/or police without the person’s consent.
“…In cases of mental health crisis, 988 is a safer phone number to call than 911,” writes Cavallaro, reporting that Alameda CSS’ rate of such nonconsensual interventions is far lower than the national average. According to the El Tecolote report, 0.67 percent of all calls to Alameda CSS may result in such interventions. The national average is around two percent. Binh Au, Alameda CSS’ Operations Officer, told El Tecolote, “We’re going to explore every single option to help this person stay safe before we even think about calling the police.”
Peer-run crisis lines and peer-led organizations have also active in creating vital resources for people in crisis and their loved ones to navigate getting support as safely as possible. Trans Lifeline recently launched the #SafeHotlines for Crisis Callers Campaign, which includes a Crisis Callers’ Bill of Rights. They also have created a fact sheet on the unintended consequences of nonconsensual emergency interventions for trans people.
This Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, people with lived experience should be proud of the fact that our community has developed more options, guides, and resources than ever before for navigating a crisis as safely as possible, and accessing the right supports for healing.
Local crisis resources:
Peer-led crisis support that never engages in nonconsensual interventions:
General resources for navigating crisis/988, developed by peers/people with lived experience:
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.