Comment: 988 crisis line will help, but attention is needed after the call

By Kailey Fiedler-Gohlke / for the herald

As the new 988 mental health hotline rolls out across the country, there is growing concern among officials and advocates that the system is not ready to meet demand.

In Washington, one of only four states that managed to pass comprehensive legislation (House Bill 1477) to sustainably fund its 988 call centers, the outlook is surprisingly no better. Already, more than a third of crisis calls placed in Washington are routed out of state to support centers, where operators will inevitably not be as familiar with local needs or resources. The state continues to struggle to fill call center jobs and the situation is only getting worse as more people turn to 988 for help.

The hope is that 988 will eventually allow people experiencing a mental health emergency to easily reach a trained crisis counselor 24/7 by call, text or chat, and be greeted by mobile crisis teams; drastically reduce police involvement in mental health calls to the few and limited circumstances where public safety is at risk.

But our vision for mental health care should not start and stop at the moment of crisis. We need a more comprehensive and compassionate continuum of services that holistically supports a person’s well-being and works to prevent crises to begin with.

As CEO of HERO House NW, a group of clubhouses based in Bellevue, Everett, and Seattle, I have seen firsthand how our model of care has been able to help people whose lives have been affected by mental illness get back on their feet. and prosper. .

Clubhouses like ours provide a safe and caring environment for people living with serious mental illness, where they can gain access to practical services, including job training, housing support, education and healthy, affordable meals, that they consider all of a person’s needs, not just their clinics.

While medication and therapy treat the symptoms of serious mental illness, clubhouses address the profound social isolation that so often accompanies these conditions. By bringing people into an intentional community and building the necessary trust, we are able to work with members to improve their health without resorting to coercion or forced treatment, while reducing the negative impacts of incarceration, homelessness and neglect suffered by people with serious mental illness. disease they disproportionately face.

Rooted in respect and human dignity, this approach has a long, proven history of incredible results since Fountain House pioneered the model in the late 1940s. To this day, members of the clubhouse have stable employment and housing, and have lower health care costs than other people living with serious mental illness.

For Lisa, a member of the Bellevue Clubhouse, our community gave her the confidence, acceptance, and strength of purpose to make important changes in her life, including going back to school. She has now joined our board as a clubhouse representative who works to help others in their recovery and she tells me that: “We may have to deal with serious mental illness for the rest of our lives, but we can still have healthy lives. meaningful, one day at a time.”

While 988 won’t be perfect overnight, it shows that there is bipartisan support among state officials, policymakers, and the general public to promote mental health care; working toward a continuum of services that should harness the power of clubhouse communities as an important tool in a person’s recovery.

For a truly effective care response, we must give people in crisis more than a number to call. Expanding clubhouse capacity should be a core part of our strategy and approach, recognizing that it is a model that has been proven to save lives, save money and improve outcomes gracefully.

Kailey Fiedler-Gohlke is Executive Director of HERO House NW in Bellevue, a member-led community for people living with serious mental illness that follows the Fountain House model and is part of the national network of Fountain House clubhouses.

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