VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Advocates for mental health resources nationwide aim to make the new 988 hotline as recognizable as 911. They want to reduce the stigma of seeking help and pair those in need with trained counselors.
“I think it would’ve helped us. I definitely do," said Susannah Uroskie of Virginia Beach, as she reflected on the new 988 hotline option. "We didn't need to drain the resources of 911 and so, I think about our family specifically."
Several years ago, her daughter needed help during a manic episode in college. Doctors diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and because she received assistance, Uroskie said her daughter is doing much better today.
"Knowing that there's that national number really just reduces the stigma and really lets everyone know, 'You're not alone,'" Uroskie added.
988 is a number you can call or text. It's designed for crises related to mental health or substance abuse.
“If we’re going to really change the dynamic of it, we really have to think about it differently and it’s OK to ask for help," said Virginia Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William County).
He told 13News Now he lost a brother to suicide many years ago, "So, this is something that has also hit my family. It’s important we can do everything we can to avail the resources to individuals who are in crisis."
McPike championed the bipartisan 988 legislation as chief patron in 2021.
"As a first responder myself over 23 years in fire/EMS, I've seen where it's important to have training and understanding of what the individual is going through and how that impacts treatment and care."
He touted Virginia as one of the first states to establish a permanent funding source. In part, the law tacks on 12 cents for monthly postpaid wireless phone bills and 8 cents for prepaid.
“We’re pleased to see, in the last couple of years, Virginians step up, both with co-response framework, as well as 988. We are excited to see this resource coming into line," McPike added. "And also, in this year’s budget, we’ve established additional crisis receiving centers in the budget. So, it’ll take roughly a year to establish new ones in Virginia."
In Virginia Beach, for instance, the hotline has been operational since late last year. National implementation rolled out on July 16, 2022.
“At the end of the day, we want to move into a system where a person has someone to call, someone to respond and a place to go in the event they are in a crisis and in that process too, have the appropriate resource matched to their crisis need. We believe this is a first step in that process," said Bill Howard, director of crisis supports and services with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services.
Howard also said that staffing up the call centers is a top priority right now.
“It’s imperative to have the appropriate staffing, to have an in-state answer rate that allows us to employ the continuum of crisis services within our state," he added.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Coastal Virginia is one resource offering free and peer-led support groups.
Since seeking support for her own family, Uroskie has been a volunteer. She currently serves as board president and a presentation facilitator. Uroskie firmly believes 988 could be a tool to change lives and promote education among the public.
“The more they hear about 988, the more they’ll learn, learn about common warning signs of mental illness, maybe cut it off, help out before it blows into a full crisis," she said. "This could be so transformative."
988 is available along with existing local and national crisis hotlines. For additional in-depth reporting about the new hotline from 13News Now, click on this link.