Nebraska Legislature

Senators in the Nebraska Legislature are considering a bill that would create a task force for the Mental Health Crisis Hotline.

With mental health issues on the rise and suicide as the second leading cause of death among young people according to the Center for Disease Control, moving forward with LB247 is of the utmost importance said Chris Tribsch, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ legislative aid. 

On average, one person died by suicide every 32 hours in Nebraska in 2018, according to the CDC. 

The task force’s role would be to develop a plan to integrate and utilize the 988 mental health crisis hotline following the federal National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020. The federal act designated 988 as the national suicide hotline number. This bill is proposing to create a task force to implement the 988 hotline in Nebraska. 

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln was quarantined due to a COVID-19 exposure, so Triebsch introduced the bill on her behalf. 

Initially, the goal is to create a legislative task force to include all relevant individuals in a plan for Nebraska. 

The task force would consist of around eight different senators as well as the following: 

  • Mental or behavioral health clinicians licensed to practice in the state
  • Behavioral and mental health service providers
  • Advocacy groups that focus on behavioral and mental health
  • Educational institutions
  • County and municipal law enforcement from each congressional district

Bill 247 would enable the 988 hotline to be implemented statewide and mental health related emergencies could be directed to the 988 hotline rather than 911. 

The task force would be responsible for developing a plan to staff the statewide hotline with mental health authorities. This would ensure each individual using the 988 hotline could be connected to a qualified mental or behavioral health professional. 

Additionally, the task force would establish a method to make sure that the hotline would always be accessible – regardless of the date, time or number of people trying to simultaneously access it. 

The statistics back the positive intent behind the bill.  

One in five people will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime and with COVID-19, projections indicate that will rise.

In December of 2020 more than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau reported symptoms of anxiety or depression which was an 11% increase from 2019. 

Annette Dubas, executive director for the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations said that although it is not the intention, that law enforcement officers often respond to a 911 call concerning a mental health concern and subsequently increase anxiety and add to the crisis. 

“Currently, many mental health crisis calls go through the 911 line, often taking up law enforcement’s time when what is actually needed is mental health assistance,” Triebsch said. 

The current National Suicide Prevention lifeline is proven effective in reducing a caller’s distress according to Dubas. The national lifeline answered over 2 million calls in 2018. 

“Nationally, we are finally recognizing the need for a strong mental health and substance use disorder of care,” Dubas said. 

To fund the 988 hotline, the federal National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 authorizes states to impose fees on wireless device services similarly to the funding of 911. 

The task force would conduct a cost analysis to further determine how a fees structure could be designed to cover the costs of the hotline 

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services received a grant from the non-profit administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, vibrant emotional health, that would help with plans for the infrastructures needs to access the 988 number in Nebraska. 

Dubas hopes that LB 247 could potentially help Nebraska illuminate other potential gaps in the legislative system. 

Senior Journalism and Advertising/Public Relations Student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln