Behavioral Health
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Social marketing for the 988 Lifeline to raise public awareness

Kyle Thompson
Policy Associate
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May 20, 2024
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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is taking this opportunity to continue to raise awareness of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. To do this, OMHAS will be launching a public awareness campaign to increase understanding of the Lifeline and the support it can provide to individuals in crisis. In anticipation of further programming byOMHAS, this blog will refresh readers on the 988 Lifeline, highlight its difference from 911, and provide further resources for anyone seeking more information.

Increasing public awareness of 988 could save lives

The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a survey one year ago which assessed American’s familiarity to the 988 Lifeline. The study reports that only 13 percent of adults in the U.S. were aware of 988 nine months after its launch. Later that same year, NAMI/Ipsos conducted a poll during the summer of 2023 which surveyed the American general population’s knowledge of the 988 Lifeline. Key findings from this study reported that 82% of Americans were not aware of 988. The implications of these knowledge gaps suggest that significant work should be done by state and local leaders across the country to increase awareness of 988 and how it can be beneficial to people.

How do I know when to call 988 vs. 911?

Mental Health America (MHA) of Ohio created an infographic which compares 988 and 911. Below is a summary of the information:

Mental Health and Addiction EMERGENCY: Call 911

Reason to Call:

  • Active threats of harm to others
  • Active suicide threat
  • Threat of harm to self
  • Drug overdose, critical intoxication, or inability to treat oneself

Calling 911 will connect you to a dispatcher which will respond to your emergency. Local law enforcement or paramedics will be sent to your location.

Mental Health and Addiction CRISIS: Call 988

Reason to Call:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Plans to harm oneself
  • Overuse of alcohol or other drugs
  • Severe anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues

Calling 988 will connect you to a trained professional that will ask you to explain your crisis. Depending on the circumstances, the professional will also help you over the phone and connect you to more care.

People in crisis can feel more assured that their needs will be met by being treated by a counselor, and not having to deal with law enforcement to address a behavioral health need.

How will 988 benefit Ohio?

Ohioans can expect to see more information around 988, how it can be effective in addressing behavioral health crises, and further opportunity to expand public awareness of support systems facilitated through 988. This will create more public knowledge on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline as an alternative to 911. People in crisis can feel more assured that their needs will be met by being treated by a counselor, and not having to deal with law enforcement to address a behavioral health need.

Prevention, countering stigma, and early intervention are the best long-term actions

Making people more aware of 988 cannot be the only measure to instill long term prevention mechanisms in our state. Working to elevate the strategic priorities of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation can also uplift cross sector agendas to tackle suicide prevention. Notably, there should be work focusing on countering the stigma that comes with behavioral health needs and finding ways to work in community systems to increase cultural and social knowledge of suicide prevention intervention in Ohio. Another high-level measure should be focused on prevention and early intervention. This can be achieved by creating coordination of action across multiple arenas that affect the various age groups. Doing socan ensure that proper mechanisms of support are distributed to populations across the life course.

OMHAS’ plan to produce social marketing for 988 is a much needed and (in my opinion) heavily anticipated.Ever since Lifeline switched from its ten-digit designation to the shorter three-digit code, the opportunity has never been greater to create awareness of mental health. Stay tuned to 5things for more updates on the 988 Lifeline.

More from Community Solutions on the 988 Lifeline

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