988: Calling All Angels
I picked up my phone and dialed 988. A person named Angel answered the phone in a soft, calm voice. He said, “Hello, this is Angel. Thank you for calling 988. How can I help you?” I looked out over the crowded outdoor basketball court, rows of folding chairs stuffed with sweaty teenagers wearing t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. I said, “My name is Sarah and I’m with about 130 middle and high school students. I’m doing a training about mental health at a summer camp and letting them know about calling 988 for emotional support. I have you on speaker phone. Is that ok? Do you want to say ‘hello’?”
“That’s totally ok. Hello everyone! I’m so glad you are all learning about 988. This is a free, three-digit number that is available 24/7. It’s confidential and you can call anytime you are feeling lonely, need encouragement, and want support. We are here for you. We want to listen to you.”
As Angel spoke to the youth, my heart swelled. I loved that God gave us a real angel to answer this 988 call. I had already gotten permission earlier from a 988-hotline coordinator to call during my keynote as a demonstration, so I knew it would be ok. It’s just that I didn’t expect to get an angel on the other line. But that is exactly what 988 is for: it is a crisis support line rolling out across the United States on July 16, 2022, though it’s already activated now.
Mental health challenges and emotional distress are at an all-time high among all ages, cultures, genders, economic class, and abilities. Now there is a new resource to help. In addition to the national 911 number, this new number, 988, is specifically for mental health and emotional support or for people experiencing a mental health crisis, including suicide.
Anyone can call 988, either for yourself or for someone else. Services are offered in both English and Spanish. Help spread the word about this new resource by announcing it in your worship bulletins, newsletters, and social media.
As people of faith, we can help share the good news that we need not suffer in silence and isolation. At times when we feel the most lonely, afraid, overwhelmed, and in despair, there is an angel just a phone call away. This resource is also for ministers, chaplains, pastors, lay leaders, and care giving professionals, because, let’s be honest, we need help, too. There are some days when we do feel completely overwhelmed and not sure how we are going to make it. When you are feeling that way, don’t hesitate to call 988.
Angel told the youth that there’s no shame in calling 988 and asking for help. He said for them to call anytime, that someone would be there to help them no matter what. This sounds like the kind of God I know—a compassionate presence there for us no matter who we are, or where we are on life’s journey. The Psalmist says that God asks the angels to protect, guard, and watch over us in all our ways, wherever we go (Psalm 91:11). If you are looking for ways to be God’s angel to a neighbor in need, consider signing up to be that reassuring voice on the other side of the phone. There is a need for volunteers and paid workers to support this new national resource. To learn more, check here https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/jobs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund is the Minister of Disabilities and Mental Health Justice for the United Church of Christ.
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