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What to Know about the 988 National Mental Health Number

Mental health struggles remain a serious problem in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly 5% of adults 18 and older face regular feelings of depression. In 2020, almost 46,000 Americans committed suicide.

That’s why access to mental health resources is essential.

Beginning on July 16 of this year, a new 988 phone number has opened for people having suicidal thoughts or other mental health crises. Calls to this number are free of charge, completely confidential, and available 24 hours a day. Frances Chinchilla, a licensed clinical social worker at AltaMed, answers some questions about the new service, and why it’s so important.

What is 988 and how does it work?

People can now dial this easy-to-remember three-digit number — 988 — instead of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline of 1-800-273-8255. The new number was established to improve access to crisis services. It will provide easier access to the Lifeline network and related crisis resources, which are different from the public safety purposes of 911.

Man Staring at the Window from Inside

Who is 988 for?

It is for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, including, but not limited to those with suicidal thoughts. The new number is also for those experiencing a substance use-related crisis. People worried that someone they know might be experiencing a mental health crisis can also use it.

What happens when someone calls 988?

Callers will hear a greeting message while their call is connected to a local Lifeline network crisis center which is based on the caller’s area code. A trained crisis counselor will answer the call, provide support, and share resources if needed. If the local center is unable to take the call, the caller will be automatically routed to a national backup crisis center.

What sort of services can I expect and what should I know before making that call?

Calling 988 will not automatically lead to a 911 intervention. While some safety and health issues — like a suicide attempt in progress or a drug overdose — may require a response from emergency medical services or law enforcement, the 988 coordinated response is meant to promote stabilization and care in the least restrictive manner.

What else should readers know about the 988 mental health number?

The Lifeline provides live crisis center phone services in English and Spanish and uses Language Line Solutions to provide translation services in over 250 additional languages. 988 accepts text messages and chats, only in English for now. Switching to 988 does not mean the 1-800-273-8255 number is going way. People will get help calling either number. 988 is just easier to remember and it expands the network of crisis call centers.

English-only chat is available through Lifeline’s website. People seeking chat services will be provided a pre-chat survey before connecting with a counselor. The survey identifies the main area of concern. If there is a wait to chat with a crisis counselor, a wait-time message will appear. If demand is high, people can access the Lifeline’s “helpful resources” while waiting or call 988.

Get a Fresh Start

Every day is an opportunity to start fresh, and we can help. We have a team of dedicated behavioral health specialists who are culturally sensitive and offer care in many languages. Reach out to our behavioral health team at (855) 425-1777 if you are feeling overwhelmed.

If you are in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 988.

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What You Need to Know about PTSD

Wherever there are people there is the potential to suffer trauma. You may witness it, be a victim of it, or have a family member experience it. The pandemic has been traumatic for millions of people who have gotten sick, lost jobs, and lost loved ones.

One of the possible results is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is a mental health disorder triggered most often by either witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event.

It is often associated with combat veterans. But you don’t have to be a soldier, sailor, or Marine to suffer from PTSD.

By the Numbers

The trauma that can lead to PTSD is not as rare as you might imagine. Neither is PTSD. About 60% of men and 50% of women will experience at least one trauma in their lifetime.

Women are more likely to experience child sexual abuse while growing up, or sexual assault. Men are more likely to experience assaults, combat, accidents, or to witness death or injury according to the National Center for PTSD.

In the United States:

  • 6% of the population will have PTSD at some point
  • 12 million adults have PTSD during any given year
  • 8% of women develop PTSD some time in their lives
  • 4% of men develop PTSD at some time

When It Happens

Not everyone who has PTSD has suffered a dangerous event, or even witnessed one. Suddenly losing a loved one can have a similar effect. Symptoms usually happen within three months of the triggering event and don’t last more than a month.

If they last longer than a month and are severe enough to interfere with work or relationships, it could be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important to see a psychiatrist or psychologist if you think you are suffering from PTSD.

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There are typically four types of symptoms:

1. Intrusive memories — This could include unwanted memories of the event, flashbacks, nightmares, severe emotional distress, or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event.

2. Avoidance — This could include avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of the event, or not talking or even thinking about the event.

3. Negative changes in mood and thinking — This includes feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, feelings of detachment, lack of interest in favorite activities, emotional numbness, negative thoughts about yourself, the world, or others, difficult experiencing positive emotions.

4. Changes in emotional and physical reactions — Also called arousal symptoms, this could include guilt or shame, being easily startled or frightened, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, angry outbursts, aggressive behavior, self-destructive behavior, constantly on guard for danger.

Children six years old and younger may re-enact the traumatic event or parts of it through play. They may also have frightening dreams that could include aspects of the event.

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What to Do

Some people may not experience PTSD for years while others experience it right away. Symptoms may be stronger when you’re generally stressed or reminded of what happened either by a sound, smell, location, or situation.

Reach out to a mental health professional, loved one, or close friend if you have suicidal thoughts or are thinking of harming yourself. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK and speak with a trained counselor.

AltaMed Is Here to Help

AltaMed’s experienced Behavioral Health team is staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help you cope with life’s stressors. Short-term therapy is available, and we can connect members with mental health services if long-term therapy or other support is needed. If you or a loved one have experienced trauma and need support, there are resources available to you. Call us at (855) 425-1777 to get started.

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Moving from Awareness to Acceptance of People with Autism

We have all heard the term “autistic” or the phrase, “on the spectrum.” But what do those phrases mean? What IS the spectrum?

The “spectrum” is the wide range of symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism for short. It is a condition related to brain development that affects the way someone perceives and engages with others. It can cause challanges with communication and social interaction.

April is World Autism Month. Organizations supporting families coping with autism are working to move beyond awareness to acceptance, because ASD doesn’t affect everyone the same way. 

Father Holding His Kid

Whom It Affects

One in 44 children under the age of 8 were identified with ASD according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. It affects all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is, however, four times more common in boys than in girls.

The causes are unclear; however researchers have ruled out any link between childhood vaccines and the disorder. It is believed there are a combination of biological, environmental, and genetic factors. According to the CDC:

  • Most scientists agree genes are one of the risk factors that make the development of ASD more likely.
  • Children with a sibling with ASD are at higher risk of having ASD.
  • People with certain chromosomal conditions like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis have a greater chance of having ASD.
  • Evidence suggests the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.
  • Children born to older parents are at a greater risk for having ASD.

What to Look For

Between 80% and 90% of parents of children with autism saw signs of ASD in their children by the time they turned two years old according to the National Autism Association. Intervening early can have a positive impact on the child’s long-term success.

The NAA recommends using the acronym SPOT to look for early signs of autism.

  • S. Social Differences — avoiding eye contact, disinterest in other children, strange play patterns
  • P. Persistent Sensory Differences — gets upset over normal daily sounds; overreacts or underreacts to lights, smells, tastes, or textures
  • O. Obsessive Behaviors — flapping hands, rocking back and forth, focused on one object or activity
  • T. Talking Delayed — little or no babbling by one year; no words by 16 months; seems deaf; loses previous verbal skills or language
Teacher and Student in Class

Treatment Options

Treatment for ASD is centered on reducing the effect symptoms have on daily life. The range of strengths and challenges for people with autism varies dramatically since ASD affects people differently.

Treatment typically involves several professionals and are created for the individual. They are administered in community, education, health, or home settings, or a combination of some or all of those.

Communication is important so providers are all working toward similar goals and supporting the stated progress and expectations.

Treatments typically fall into the following categories:

  • Behavioral — Applied Behavior Analysis is a behavioral treatment encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors to improve skills.
  • Developmental — These focus on speech, language, physical, and other connected skills.
  • Educational — Given in a classroom setting, this treatment category arms teachers with ways to adjust classroom structure to improve outcomes.
  • Social-relational — These treatments help build emotional bonds and often involve parents or peer mentors.
  • Pharmacological — There is no medication for ASD, but some medications are used for co-occurring symptoms like hyperactivity, anxiety, or depression.
  • Psychological — Cognitive-Behavior Therapy is an example of an approach, focusing on the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Complementary and Alternative — These augment traditional approaches and could include special diets, animal therapy, mindfulness, art therapy, or chiropractic care.

We Can Answer Your Questions

AltaMed is available to provide specialized care to newborns, giving them the best start at life. That includes age-appropriate immunizations and screenings. Our pediatricians also have information on early childhood development milestones and can talk to you about any concerns you may have during your child’s first few years of life. They can also help you find specialists in areas like child neurology and pediatric developmental behavior. 

Get started by contacting us today at (877) 462-2582.

What to Know about the 988 National Mental Health Number