WASHINGTON (AP) — Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, on Friday visited a 988 call center that’s part of the recently launched national hotline intended to help anyone experiencing a mental health emergency.
Emhoff, who has spoken out on the importance of mental health for adults and children, and who last week addressed the pain of rising antisemitism, met with crisis counselors and call center operators in Hyattsville, Maryland.
“Instead of calling 911 for emergency, we need to get everyone to know that it’s 988 for any issue that revolve around mental health or suicidal ideation or those feelings of being alone,” said Emhoff. He noted that the average hold time on calls is 32 seconds.
The Biden administration wants to highlight the 988 helpline as a support system, particularly as the holiday season often brings up feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
Emhoff’s visit comes as the entertainment industry reels from the suicide this week of Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the longtime and beloved dancing DJ on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Boss, a former contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance,” was 40 years old.
“We think it’s important that we shed light on the resources available to any American dealing with mental health challenges or emotional distress,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday after noting Boss’ death.
The 988 helpline, launched in July, is staffed with mental health counselors around the country and was designed to be as easy to remember as the emergency line, 911. Those needing help can call or text.
The Biden administration has handed out more than $130 million in grants for 988 this month and invested more than $432 million to get the hotline up and running.
Eventually, officials envision 988 operators being able to dispatch mobile mental health crisis teams to people’s homes and creating emergency mental health centers that are similar to urgent care clinics for physical aches and pains. But states need more funding and time to make that happen.
The new 988 system builds on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an existing network of more than 200 crisis centers nationwide staffed by counselors who answer millions of calls each year. Calls to the old lifeline, at 800-273-8255, will still go through even with 988 in place.
The 988 system weeks ago suffered a daylong outage, which is under investigation.
The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org.