By April Shaw and Taleed El-Sabawi
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent increases in the incidence of televised violence against Black persons by law enforcement actors and others have contributed to the worsening mental health of these subordinated and marginalized communities. While the policy solutions needed to address this disparate impact are structural and multi-faceted, the introduction of 988, a national mental health crisis hotline, offers an opportunity to positively contribute to the overall goals of decreasing police interactions with Black and Brown communities.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Final Rule designating 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in September 2020. Congress later passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 codifying 988 as the dialing code. Per the FCC Final Rule, states are required to implement 988 into their networks by July 2022.
States have wide latitude in how they implement 988, and though many will likely stop at the bare minimum of creating a suicide prevention hotline, 988 could be coupled with the creation of police alternative (or non-police) mobile responses that assist with de-escalation, stabilization, and connection to treatment. Non-police responses promise to decrease police interaction, excessive use of force, and criminalization of mental illness. Such non-police responses have gained in national popularity due in large part to organization and protests led by Black Lives Matters activists.