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Hoosier mental health: New phone number for crisis calls next year

Soon, Hoosiers will be able to speak with a trained counselor at the new number "988" instead of a dispatcher at the end of 911.

INDIANAPOLIS — The mass shooting at FedEx put a spotlight on mental health, with so many people dealing with trauma right now.

Yet in Indiana, experts say our mental health system isn't working as well as it should; however, it's being revamped, with a big first fix coming soon, through a new crisis phone number that'll change how Hoosiers get help.

In an emergency, that first phone call is key to getting help: for a fire, a heart attack or a violent crime, like the tragedy at FedEx. But for help in a mental health crisis, experts say our system in Indiana isn't working.

"It should be just like responding to a fire. We should be able to go to them, wherever they are, help deescalate and get them the help that they need," said David Berman, Vice President of Mental Health America of Indiana.

Even though mental health needs are skyrocketing, wait times for care can take weeks, and there's a shortage of psychiatrists.

"We could use way more resources in mental health services," said Vanessa Enos, Program Manager with Community Health Network. "There's a shortage of therapists. There's a shortage of psychiatrists. So if you're a young person, thinking about a career path and you want to help people, we need you."

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"We have a significant shortage in mental health inpatient beds and mental health practitioners," Berman said.

Another problem is the first contact in a crisis: 911. While helpful, 911 isn't the best fit for mental health.

Starting in July of next year, a new system will radically improve how Hoosiers — and how people all across the country — get help.

Calling "988" will become the mental health equivalent of dialing 911.

"That is going to be the main entry point for all things crisis related," Berman said. "988 makes no bones about who they are and what the purpose is, which is the full gamut of crisis response."

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In 2022, by federal mandate, 988 will replace the national suicide prevention hotline.

Instead of a dispatcher, like 911 calls, a trained crisis counselor will be on the other end of the phone. Right now, state lawmakers are hashing out money to pay for infrastructure for implementing 988.

There are also even bigger plans in the works for a revamp to Indiana's mental health system. It's more of a coordinated response to crisis.

Part of the plan includes starting mobile crisis response units. Just like firefighters go to the fire, in an emotional emergency, counselors would come right to you.

"So, you're talking to someone, doesn't get you where you need to, they deploy mobile crisis. Mobile crisis comes, hopefully can deescalate the situation," Berman explained.

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It's meant to route resources for trauma right to the person in need.

Funding plans for those mobile crisis response units are still under consideration. 

The 988 rollout starts July 1, 2022.

So until then, if you have a mental health need, call the suicide prevention hotline or 911 in an emergency.

You can find additional resources here.