Marblehead psychologist says 9-8-8 will be life saver

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

Marblehead psychologist Dr. Melissa Kaplowitch says the new 9-8-8 National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline will save lives.

“When you’re feeling suicidal, if you can get someone on the other end of the phone who is trained in de-escalation and coping strategies, it can buy even 10 minutes,” Kaplowitch said. “Then, you’re saving a life.”

The 9-8-8 number, which launched July 16, is the brainchild of 6th District Congressman Seth Moulton, who represents Marblehead and surrounding communities.   

Congressman Seth Moulton at a mental health event at Salem State University in July

“This is transformative for mental health care. So many Americans die every year because they can’t get help in that critical moment,” Moulton told Marblehead News. 

He added that early reports from the lifeline are extremely positive.

“A lot of people are calling, and they’re all getting help,” he said.

‘Help is three digits away

People who dial, text or chat 9-8-8 are routed to the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which has received more than 23 million calls since it started in 2005.

Folks in distress are connected to specially trained counselors who listen and provide support and resources. The 9-8-8 service is available to anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as people worried about a loved one’s mental health.

“Over 45,000 Americans die every year by suicide — every one of them alone,” Moulton said. “And so many die because they can’t get help in that desperate moment. 9-8-8 is going to change that.”

Kaplowitch, a psychology professor at Salem State who serves on the Marblehead Mental Health Task Force, hopes 9-8-8 will reduce the stigma around reaching out for mental health support.

“9-8-8 is a way of getting help for an emergency, like for any other emergency,” she said.

Moulton agrees.

“Just like everyone knows how to dial 9-1-1 if you wake up and your house is on fire, everyone will know that if you or a loved one are in a mental health crisis, help is three digits away,” he said.

Moulton’s own PTSD struggles

The pandemic has worsened the mental health crisis across the country. One-in-five adults and one-in-six children experience mental illness each year, according to the National Mental Health Alliance. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people. 

Moulton has openly discussed his own struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after his military service in Iraq. Access to mental health care is an issue close to his heart.

He has unveiled a three-pronged plan to improve access and break the stigma that often prevents people from seeking help:

  1. Mandatory mental health checks for service members who see combat (approved in 2019)
  2. The 9-8-8 Lifeline
  3. Expanding mental health resources to all Americans

“We need to make mental healthcare as routine as an annual physical,” Moulton said. “This is going to take a lot more resources. We need more mental health professionals.”

In the meantime, Kaplowitch has this advice for anyone in an acute mental health crisis — and anyone concerned a loved one might take their own life: Call 9-8-8.

“Use the number, use the number, use the number,” she said.

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