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How Virginia hopes to improve mental health support services

Posted at 10:06 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-04 13:07:55-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A new nationwide three-digit suicide hotline should make it easier for people to receive mental health support. It was being incorporated with a state-wide push to improve mental health crisis response in Virginia, according to the Department of Health and Developmental Services.

"I think that Virginia recognizes that we need to improve mental health support services," Heather Norton, Assistant Commissioner with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said.

Norton is leading the implementation of a federal 988 grant in the state.

Like 911, that number—988 —was set to become the new three-digit number to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for mental health and suicide support.

Norton said some cell phone carriers launched the hotline early, but full implementation of the 988 number won't happen until July 2022.

More than the hotline though, in Virginia, Norton said the 988 initiative was being tied in with a larger statewide push to better respond to mental health crisis-related calls.

An initiative called the Crisis System Transformation.

"Really implementing the national model of Crisis Now," said Norton.

Among other things, Norton said that included improving the state’s mobile crisis response network and air traffic control.

"Currently, Virginia has about a 51% in-state answer rate," said Norton.

Norton said the plan was to improve that answer rate through the development of a new regional call center by the end of the year -- acting as a hub to better respond to mental health needs.

The expansion of the mobile crisis response network would then play a vital role in getting help to those who needed it.

"This process by bringing these things together will allow us to also be able to dispatch resources in a more timely way to intervene," Dr. John Lindstrom, CEO of the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, said.

Lindstrom said clinicians and certified peers would be ready to go out into the field to intervene with an individual in their home or community.

He added that it’s a service already provided for children -- but coming this Fall will be expanded to respond to adults in the community as well.

"These services will be more so tailored at actually intervening and stabilizing in the community as opposed to that one and done intervention that we often do in emergency services," said Lindstrom.

As of now, anyone who needs mental health support can call the current National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.