Mental health advocates in New York are cheering the creation of the 988 crisis help line, but they want to make sure the resources and funding will be there for it in the long term.
Association for Community Living Executive Director Sabrina Barrett said the new 988 line for people in a mental health crisis will be a vital tool for helping people in need. But she's worried New York is not doing enough to reach its goals of supporting mental health care for a variety of needs — from housing to crisis intervention.
"When you have experienced decades of underfunding — it's not just flipping a switch and catching up," she said.
New York is spending millions of dollars to bolster 988, funding that dovetails with the creation of crisis stabilization centers to help people with mental health needs. It's part of a changing approach to mental health programs.
The state budget approved $35 million to expand 988 call center capacity. Funding will increase in the next year to $60 million on an annual basis, while the Office Mental Health has earmarked $10 million in one-time funding for Community Menalth Health Service block grants.
There are also 13 dedicated 988 crisis contact centers and two additional centers serving the Capital Region and North Country in the process of being developed.
In its first weekend, the state saw a 50% increase in call volume to 988 compared to the suicide prevention call line from the prior weekend. The state has also increased the in-state answer rate from 77% to 82% in the first weekend.
"The New York State Office of Mental Health is committed to tackling suicide prevention in the midst of a global pandemic that has come with great loss, hardship and social isolation," the Office of Mental health said in a statement. "The 988 Lifeline is an important step as part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen New York's crisis response systems and reduce suicide attempts, and we look forward to continue working with partners and advocates at all levels to provide New Yorkers who are experiencing a mental health crisis with quality, accessible services and assistance."
But Barrett points to rising inflation costs taking a toll on services now outpacing even the spending increases New York lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul have approved.
"We're going to be looking toward the state for even more resources so that we can stabilize the system and then grow to meet the need that is coming," she said.
Glenn Liebman, the CEO of the Mental Health Association of New York State, calls services like 988, as well as the crisis centers, a step in the right direction.
"That is a positive trend, but I think inevitably it comes down to services as well and the long-term impact for people," Liebman said.
But whether this sea change in mental health programs can be successful remains to be seen.
"It's still evolving," he said. "We have to wait and see and hopefully this will be something that is positive and provides positive outcomes for people who are in crisis."