Alabama officials say they are prepared for new mental health hotline

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 4:35 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - From 10 numbers down to three. The national suicide prevention lifeline number is about to be easier to remember.

Starting Saturday, the code 988 will be open for suicide prevention and mental health crisis calls across the country. And in Alabama, mental health professionals have put in years of work to be ready to answer the first call.

“You will have a trained crisis counselor that will be there to offer you compassionate support, to be there to listen attentively to your needs,” said Beverly Johnson with the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

Someone doesn’t have to be in a crisis to call.

“Just if they have questions. If they have a loved one that all of a sudden they think they’re maybe having a mental health issue that they’ve never had before,” said Kimberly Boswell, commissioner of the state’s department of mental health.

Johnny Hollingsworth oversees the development programs to help dispatchers better respond to people in crisis.

“What we want to do is develop the most compassionate and effective crisis response system that is the least intrusive in a person’s life,” he said.

Hollingsworth says the trainings are tailored for all types of mental health scenarios.

“They use an MP3 player with earphones where they’re actually hearing voices in their head, and they’re put through tasks for about 45 minutes where they can have a slight experience what it’s like when you’re hearing voices,” said Hollingsworth.

Mental health crisis training isn’t new to Alabama. Gov. Kay Ivey and the Legislature have funded mobile crisis and crisis centers for years, so not only are there people to answer the call, but there are places you can go for help. Johnson says there are main locations in the Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile areas.

“When individuals call into that line, then they’ll have that access to what those resources are,” said Johnson. “Whether those resources are for supportive services, whether that is for a level of care, that information will be there at their fingertips.”

“We’re actually in Alabama in a much better position than some other states,” said Boswell.

Alabama also has a 988 study commission that plans to track the number of calls and ways to increase funding to improve the hotline and the care provided.

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