In July 2022, the 24/7 hotline 988 opened as the 911 emergency equivalent for mental health crises. When 911 is dialed in response to a mental health crisis, dispatched police are often not trained for these sorts of situations, leading to ineffective handling, dangerous interactions, or deadly results. This hotline theoretically allows us to redefine America’s crisis response, enabling callers to access services like mental health treatment, help with substance use, mobile crisis teams, and support for anyone at risk.
Many states are not prepared for this hotline, as America’s mental health system has been historically underfunded and limited – a faulty system a phone number will not fix overnight.
In “Call for Help,” host Stephanie Wittels Wachs and special correspondent Zak Williams examine how 988 can help, the dangers it could pose, and crisis response’s future in America. Episodes investigate how the system was set up to fail and suggest how America can improve it.
Episode 1 shares the history of 988. Zak Williams joined to share his mental health journey, how stigma impacted his father (Robin Williams), and how his father’s death led him to become a mental health advocate. Tune in for conversations with Congressman Seth Moulton, mental health advocate Keris Myrick, Executive Director of the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline John Draper, and Director of the Sozosei Foundation Melissa Beck.
Taun Hill dialed 911 in 2019 when her 18-year-old son, Miles, was having a mental health crisis. It took police 30 seconds to arrive at Taun’s residence in Walnut Creek, California. Miles was shot and died.
Episode 2 looks at what could have happened if Taun dialed 988 and if Miles would still have been alive today. Tune in for insight from Taun, Tom Insel, Dr. Altha Stewart, Asantewaa Boykin, and Stephanie. They’ll discuss how these issues take a human toll, affect communities of color, how the nation’s mental health system arrived at this state. This episode also explores solutions, and Zak offers actions for us to kickstart change.
On the podcast, Stephanie visited one of Arizona’s dispatch centers, a state with a comprehensive mental health crisis response system run by trained mental health staff. Arizona has been solidifying its system since the 1980s. Bonus episodes dive into topics like how states are improving access to mental healthcare.
“Call for Help” is presented by Lemonada. Tune in weekly for new episodes wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.