The Expansion of the Suicide Prevention Hotline to Crisis Intervention Services: What People with Disabilities Should Know About 988

Ian Watlington, National Disability RIghts Network and Claire Stanley

The transition from the current National Suicide Hotline to a broader “crisis response” using 988 presents an important opportunity to expand services for people with disabilities when they are experiencing mental health crises. But it also has the potential to incentivize highly coercive systems that are not person-centered and could serve to deny people in crisis personal autonomy.

This presentation will address national developments in the transition to 988 crisis response services and state-level implementation efforts. In light of these developments, the presentation will address issues of particular concern for people with disabilities, particularly those with psychiatric, communication and intellectual disabilities. These concerns include the collection of the personal data of people who contact 988, including the caller’s geolocation information ; involuntary emergency response interventions, where crisis responders intervene without a request; police and behavioral health professionals’ involvement in crisis response teams and, not to mention the grand implications for involuntary hospitalization; the development of “crisis stabilization centers” promoted by federal agencies; and broader issues around the non-voluntary provision of “mental health services.”

Presenters will alert attendees to the potential benefits but also the warning signs of expanded mental health services that may worsen existing problems and deny free choice and autonomy.

Presenters are staffers with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) who have closely monitored the expansion of the 988 and crisis response systems. We will also include a person with lived experience with the mental health system.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Develop an understanding of the implications of the expanded National Suicide Prevention Hotline to “crisis response” services, and the implications for people with disabilities.
  2. Recognize the privacy and personal choice issues affected by the implementation of the 988 system.
  3. Apply prior understanding of police interventions in the lives of people with disabilities, affecting the lives of BIPOC people and people in low-income communities in particular, in assessing and proposing alternative crisis response strategies.