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988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to include American Sign Language services


After a little over a year since the launch of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is adding nationwide American Sign Language, or ASL, services for deaf and hard of hearing callers.

According to a news release, local organization DeafLEAD is one of the two providers of this new, nationwide service. CEO Stephanie Logan said people who call on a videophone will be connected to a crisis counselor who also uses a videophone and uses ASL.

"They'll be able to talk directly without a third party involved," Logan said. "They'll be able to use sign language to communicate directly with each other.

Logan said a videophone is essentially like Facetime. She said there was a soft launch of the feature earlier this month, and 988 began accepting calls with the videophone feature Wednesday.

"This 988 videophone is huge, it's huge for our community," Logan said.

Director of crisis services at Burrell Behavioral Health, Carisa Kessler, said this new feature is very valuable to reach more people who need the service.

"It's a big deal," Kessler said. "That opened up several avenues for individuals to be able to reach 988 and utilize the valuable services that it provides."

In the state of Missouri, Logan said there are likely around 600,000 people who identify with some sort of hearing loss. Of these, she said about 50% also have mental health needs, which is why this new 988 feature is so important.

"ASL is not english, it is a separate language that stands on its own two feet," Logan said. "It's really important for deaf individuals who use sign language to be able to communicate directly with a person. And that's important. To have somebody that understands you not only linguistically, but culturally, they can understand their experience, that's absolutely critical."

According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are several resources available for anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing including the Deaf Services Advocates. This is a group of employees and community mental health centers with training from the Office of Deaf Services to serve deaf and hard of hearing people. In Mid-Missouri, providers with these advocates include Arthur Center, Burrell Behavioral Health, Compass Health and New Horizons.

There are also specialized behavioral health outpatient centers for the deaf community located in St. Louis and Lee's Summit.

In the first year of 988, which was recognized in July, the hotline received around 4 million contacts, including more than 2.6 million calls, 740,000 chats and more than 600,000 texts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

There will be a celebration on Friday at Peace Park in Columbia to honor one year of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and the new expansion for ASL. The event begins at 11:30 a.m.

If someone is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis, call or text 988 to speak with a professional.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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