Mental health advocate optimistic new national hotline will improve Illinois’ crisis infrastructure

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(The Center Square) – With a new national mental health crisis hotline slated to subsume state efforts in July, Illinois is scrambling to prepare.

Also known as 988, the new hotline is slated to go live July 16 and will build upon the Prairie State’s existing infrastructure.

“The intent is to connect those in need with Illinois providers and to make that a more seamless approach,” Gerald Jud DeLoss, CEO of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, told The Center Square.

U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the need for mental health help has increased in Illinois, with three out of 10 people reporting feeling anxious and depressed late last year. Out of those, 23% did not receive counseling.

“This isn’t something that they can or should face in silence and keep away from sharing with friends and family,” DeLoss said.

But Illinois has the worst call answer rate in the nation, with just one in five crisis calls answered in the first three months of 2022, and call volume is expected to soar when the new national hotline 988 takes over, Illinois Newsroom reported.

Illinois doesn’t have the manpower currently to answer all the calls, DeLoss said.

“Many of the calls get transferred out of the state due to the inability of the existing centers to address that call volume,” he said.

To that end, federal funds have been channeled to help with improvements already. Even with additional federal funding and funding from a successful state legislative session, the workforce shortage is making things hard both on the call center and treatment sides, said DeLoss.

“The ability to get them into treatment is going to be very difficult because there are not enough treatment providers, mental health and addiction providers available,” he said.

DeLoss cautioned it will take time to iron out all the workforce issues, but he is hopeful and believes the state is headed in the right direction. He believes the change will be for the better.

“It’ll be a more connected, cohesive type of response,” he said.

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June 29, 2022 at 12:11PM

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