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Communities of color need to be educated about the benefits of using the new national mental health crisis hotline 988, which is set to launch July 16 during National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, says a former White House representative and 988 spokeswoman.
“Historically when communities of color are in crisis, we don’t call crisis lines,” says Tonja Myles, 988 spokeswoman, executive director of Set Free Indeed and former White House representative with President George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and its work on substance abuse. “We need to tell Black people that the crisis line can be trusted – the operators are there to help and treat you as if you are in a crisis, not as if you’re a criminal,” she says.
Myles calls the new number a “game changer” because it will reduce the trauma and stigma surrounding a mental health crisis. Congress designated the 988 dialing code as an answer to the country’s mental health crisis, and it will connect callers to trained counselors who can address their immediate needs. Previously, those in a crisis were only able to dial 911, and police officers who responded were typically only trained to respond to law enforcement issues rather than mental health crises, she says. The hotline’s launch is during National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a national effort to destigmatize mental illness and enhance public awareness of health disparities in U.S. minority groups.
Because communities of color commonly distrust and have experienced trauma with the police, they may resist dialing the new hotline because they are concerned about law enforcement involvement, she says. She also believes some will resist dialing the 988 hotline number due to stigma and fear. Due to systemic racism, mental health resources were traditionally seen as a resource for White people only, and communities of color couldn’t afford it, she says.
Myles, a survivor of substance abuse, childhood and adult sexual abuse who also has PTSD, experienced this issue herself when two police officers years ago responded to her own suicide attempt. Although one officer treated her well, she says the other treated her as if she were a criminal rather than a person in crisis. She says people of color can now “know that hope is on the way. A better way is coming.”
About Tonja Myles
988 spokeswoman Tonja Myles (www.TonjaMyles.com) is the co-founder and executive director of the faith-based outpatient center Set Free Indeed and the community support program Set Free Indeed Ministry. She was recognized by President George W. Bush for her work during his 2003 State of the Union, and she served for six years as the public face of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and its work on substance abuse treatment. Her Congressional testimonies have been used to assist those suffering from mental health and additional crises. She is a survivor of suicide, substance abuse, childhood and adult sexual abuse and PTSD. She has moved thousands of people to sobriety and a healthy, self-sustainable lifestyle with her work. She has won more than a dozen awards for her service including the Johns Hopkins Substance Abuse Innovators Award 2005 and the Daily Point of Light award 2004. She serves on multiple boards and health advisory councils including the Louisiana Behavioral Health Advisory Council and the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health Crisis System Implementation Plan Council. She is an ordained minister, Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, author, community activist and Army National Guard veteran.
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: