New mental health hotline detailed at MHAoPC annual meeting

Saturday, June 11, 2022
Highlighting the importance of coordination among advocates and a clear understanding about its use, Mental Health America-Wabash Valley Region President-CEO Brandi Christiansen discusses the 988 mental health hotline during Mental Health America of Putnam County’s annual meeting recently.
Banner Graphic/BRAND SELVIA

During a Community Conversation with Mental Health America of Putnam County (MHAoPC) Executive Director Karen Martoglio and Dr. Nicholas Heck in March 2021, Dr. Christina Wagner described mental health in the United States as the “second pandemic” after COVID-19. Stress related to work, child care and safety protocols had led to “pandemic fatigue” among Americans.

Now into the emergence of a post-Covid reality, mental health remains a widely critical issue. With 988, a new national hotline set to roll out next month, the aim for providers and professionals going forward is connecting more quickly and efficiently with those at risk.

As its featured speaker, Mental Health America-Wabash Valley Region President-CEO Brandi Christiansen detailed the goals of 988, as well as the challenges coming with its implementation, at MHAoPC’s recent annual meeting at Music on the Square in Greencastle.

Prefacing Christiansen’s presentation, Martoglio shared that moderate-to-severe depression and anxiety, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were determined in 37 voluntary mental health screenings conducted locally in February. Screenings in March with 40 participants also identified bipolar disorder, with depression still the major concern with screenings completed in April.

“Each MHA seems to have their thing that they do, and I think what we do is advocate,” Martoglio said, noting that other Mental Health America organizations focus on training or housing. “I’d like to get us into more of doing that finding-help thing. We’re great at just getting information out, and we wanna be better than how we do that now.”

Looking at mental health nationally in the midst of Covid, it has been approximated that there was one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020, with suicide being the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10-14 and 25-34. Meanwhile, over 100,000 people died due to drug overdoses from April 2020 to 2021.

With Christiansen as it lead, Mental Health America-Wabash Valley Region serves 11 counties and also operates one of the state’s two 24/7 suicide prevention hotlines. As such, a major focus has been navigators (i.e. case managers) being able to direct those in need to therapy services.

However, Christiansen said this came about because of clinics and call centers being overloaded. The aim of having navigators is to remove barriers by allowing clients to meet with them in person at no cost. Since 2017, over 3,000 individuals and their families have been connected with services.

These are still correlated with the availability of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other similar hotlines. While they would still be available, 988 would be transformative essentially from an efficiency standpoint in responding to mental health crises.

Deer Meadow Primary home-school liaison and MHAoPC board member Joanna Muncie (with award) is honored as the organization’s Educator of the Year by (from left) MHAoPC co-chairwoman Harriet Moore, Executive Director Karen Martoglio and co-chairwoman Christina Kerns.
Banner Graphic/BRAND SELVIA

“We can provide an empathetic ear without getting into therapy and clinical services, because we are not clinicians, nor is this a clinical prerogative,” Christiansen said. “But these (hotlines) are proven to work, that by just talking to someone who’s been trained, people become less depressed, less suicidal and less overwhelmed.

“It’s really just reminding people of the tools and the answers they have in their own lives,” she added on this. “When you’re in a really dark spot, it’s hard to remember the tools in your toolbox. It’s hard to remember the supports and things which have worked in the past.”

As it is now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has more than 200 call centers throughout the country. To put its load into perspective, it received 2.4 million calls in its 2020 fiscal year. In this vein, Christiansen noted that only 30 percent of them received public funds to specifically answer those calls.

Recognizing the strain, the Federal Communications Commission recommended for all call centers to enable 988 connecting to the Lifeline. Congress then passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act in October 2020 incorporating 988 as the primary number for mental health.

While 988 has been set to kick off nationally on July 16, Indiana is out in front making it active on July 1 per Indiana House Bill 1468. This, Christiansen said, means that advocates are not necessarily marketing it, but rather should be educating on its purpose. The concern now is facing an influx of calls at the beginning.

The short-term goal is to have a strengthened and expanded Lifeline response to crisis calls, texts and chats. The long-term aim is to establish an efficient system to provide crisis care anywhere in the country. This would be accomplished through a more centralized network that can link to care and outreach services. The question in this vein, though, is how 988 would be different from 911.

“There’s a lot of confusion; there’s a lot of education that has to happen. There’s some territorialism, believe it or not,” Christiansen said. However, with it being estimated that four percent of calls now going through 911 would come through 988, she provided that medical and police services want to ensure that 988 will be best for someone calling with a mental health issue.

“I don’t blame them,” she stipulated. “That’s why we’re working with them. We’re going through scenarios to discuss what type of call would come to us and what type of call would come to them. We stabilize people. If they’re in eminent danger of suicide, we will engage rescue, but it’s a last resort.

“We want people to be a part of their own solution. So we will work to get a voluntary outreach,” Christiansen added. “From Mental Health America’s purview, we think that we will continue to do exactly what we’re still doing, and that there really won’t be much disruption.”

Meanwhile, Eric Rippy (second from right) and Dr. Nicholas Heck are recognized with MHAoPC’s Person of the Year award for their work with behavioral health services at Recovery Raw and Putnam County Hospital, respectively. Presenting the award are (from left) MHAoPC co-chairwomen Harriet Moore and Christina Kerns and Executive Director Karen Martoglio.
Banner Graphic/BRAND SELVIA

One historical problem Christiansen pointed to is call centers and organizations not putting an emphasis on follow-ups with clients. This is made difficult with one caller communicating with a person on one day, and then another trying to connect them with services within 48 hours of the call. She provided that creating a follow-up program would address gaps in service.

“This is where I see navigators being able to fulfill a role, because an appointment can be made while they’re on the phone with someone who’s in crisis right on our website,” she said. “We know that’s going to look different when the state gets involved. So we are going to make some lemonade – big time.”

Specific to Indiana, the low estimate for contacts with 988 in its first year is 127,000 people. For the fifth year, this could increase to 265,000 people still being a low approximation.

Getting the word out about 988 means public awareness comparable to 911. It is about access to resources in which people can effectively help themselves and others to de-escalate crises, develop coping skills and build resiliency. With efficiency as a core tenet, 988 is to be accessible through various channels based on one’s needs. Ultimately, responses and follow-ups need to be timely.

“It’s very simply broken down to someone to call, someone to respond and a place to go,” Christiansen concluded. “We’re gonna radically change the way we respond to mental health crises in our state and in our nation.”

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  • So spot on. Mental health is a real issue and we need to be willing to admit it and engage with it. My perspective anyway

    -- Posted by beg on Sun, Jun 12, 2022, at 12:12 AM
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