Mental Health takes center stage

Oklahoma City — Mental health issues have been key with state leaders over the past two legislative sessions. The number of suicides among adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 increased in five states during the pandemic, according to research looking at 14 states published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. One of those five states is Oklahoma.

On July 1, 2022, a new service becomes available to offer aid to those struggling with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. Across our nation, a new service will be launched which will provide enhanced support for those in crisis.

A new phone line will begin with the digits 988.

This is the number approved by the Federal Communications Commission to replace the 11-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number. This change came after mental health and suicide prevention advocates asked Congress for a shorter, easier-to-remember number for individuals in crisis.

When you call 988, crisis counselors will provide support for people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress in the moments they need it most.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), “988 is a direct, three-digit line to trained behavioral health professionals that can open the door for all Oklahomans that seek the help they need, while sending the message that healing, hope and help are happening every day. The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to establish 988 and turns it on nationally July 1, 2022. 988 is the first step to a multi-level crisis response.”

ODMHSAS is the coordinating state agency for the statewide rollout of the national mental health lifeline as part of its comprehensive crisis response system. The call center also includes mobile crisis response, crisis receiving and stabilization services, and follow-up appointments.

Plans are for the center to eventually integrate with the 911 system, as so many 911 calls are mental health related.

With that, one of the first questions I asked state leaders was how this might impact 211. If you are not familiar with dialing 211, in most states, that number connects you to a system providing health and social service assistance information and referrals.

Heartline 211 has a broad mission for providing services in our state. They connect Oklahomans with help, hope and information 24 hours a day through a myriad of services. According to their website, they help more than 200,000 Oklahomans in need each year, including connection to financial assistance programs, housing/shelter support, direction with transportation and legal aid, connection with health and dental care, and disaster assistance.

Leaders envision that 988 crisis centers will coordinate with 211 and other similar lines. This will help ensure an all-inclusive approach regardless of which number a person may use first.

Not stopping there, evidence also shows that specialized crisis programs for adolescents (e.g., dedicated crisis teams) deliver significant positive outcomes. One example in Oklahoma is with Integris Health assisting to launch Hope Squad programs within schools. Hope Squad is a national, school-based suicide prevention program that engages and trains youth to recognize and report warning signs of suicide among their peers. Students have received Hope Squad training and school-based advisors have been trained in an evidence-based suicide prevention method called QPR which stands for question, persuade, and refer someone to help.

Through 988 and programs such as Hope Squad, services are increasing to help those struggling. If you sense someone might be going through challenging times, please refer them to 988 and support services available in their area.

Joe Dorman is executive director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. His articles frequently appear on this website. A former state representative, he ran for governor in 2014. Pat McGuigan, publisher of, endorsed Dorman in that race. CapitolBeatOK is an independent, non-partisan, and locally-managed news service based in Oklahoma City.