This week a bill was passed to create a three-digit emergency number for mental health emergencies. The new bipartisan bill shockingly was approved and signed by bully-in-chief President Donald Trump. Regardless, the hotline will create a three-digit number “988” that people can call during a mental health emergency. The line is expected to be up and running by July 2022.
Currently, emergency calls are typically directed to the “911” line, which dispatches law enforcement that may not have the appropriate training to help distressed citizens dealing with a mental health crisis. It’s been proven to be especially dangerous when police are sent for a wellness or welfare check to scenes where people of color are dealing with a mental health episode. The person in need ends up killed by police all too often.
For instance, Sandy Guardiola, a Latina parole officer, was killed by a cop during a 2017 wellness check in upstate New York. Her colleagues called 911 to request the wellness check. Officer Scott Kadien entered her home without permission and shot her three times while she was in her bed. It isn’t clear how the wellness check escalated to violence, Kadien claimed Guardiola shot at him first with a gun she legally owned. However, evidence suggests that Guardiola was shot while she was reaching for her weapon. She died in the hospital on the same day. Her death didn’t make national news. A grand jury declined to charge Kadien. Perhaps if it had been a trained mental health professional, not a police officer, who checked on her Guardiola would still be with us today.
The “988” line will connect callers to a crisis center rather than a police precinct. Those managing the phone line will be trained to respond effectively to those suffering from a mental health emergency. The hotline could help reduce police violence and be a safer way to respond to community needs. For now, those in distress may call the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 10-digit number, 1-800-273-TALK.