Jul 18, 2022 - News

Ohio's new 988 mental health hotline needs funding

Data: National Academy for State Health Policy; Map: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Americans can now immediately reach trained crisis counselors by dialing or texting 988.

Yes, but: Even after the new mental health hotline launched over the weekend, there's still uncertainty over whether Ohio will be able to handle an anticipated rise in outreach.

  • We're one of several states that has yet to approve long-term funding legislation for the federally mandated hotline, Axios' Tina Reed reports.

Why it matters: Our country is struggling with a mental health crisis.

  • Over the last twelve months, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has fielded 79,358 calls from Ohioans, state officials say.

How it works: Similar to 911, 988 will connect Franklin County callers to one of two local centers. If unavailable, calls forward to regional and national centers.

Between the lines: The transition should divert mental health calls away from 911, which are more likely to result in police intervention than clinical care because they generally aren't handled by mental health professionals.

Flashback: Following bipartisan legislation in 2020, the FCC designated 988 as the new emergency service to connect callers, via local centers, with either the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Veterans Crisis Line.

  • Unlike 911, which rolled out over decades starting in the '60s, the transition to 988 is taking place all at once.

Zoom in: Ohio's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has allocated $20 million in federal funds for one year of operations.

  • This included expanding the state's call centers from 12 to 19.
  • Meanwhile, officials will "carefully monitor call volumes and system needs" and work with legislators to identify future funding, per a statement.

What they're saying: "It's absolutely a concern … a little bit of a paradox," Sue Villilo, vice president of Franklin County's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board (ADAMH), tells Axios.

  • "People will become increasingly familiar with it and reliant on it over time, but at this point in Ohio we don't have the funding to sustain it."

Separately, the county's other efforts to expand mental health care continue, including launching mobile response teams this fall and opening a new, larger crisis center for in-person services by 2024.

  • The goal is a continuum of crisis care — "someone to call, someone to come and somewhere to go," Villilo says.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 as of July 16, you can text message or call 988.


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