Oklahoma’s lifeline for mental health - MetroFamily Magazine
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Oklahoma’s lifeline for mental health

By Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

by Erin Page

Reading Time: 4 minutes 

Parents today are more focused on their family’s mental wellness than ever before, embracing the mindset that seeking help for mental health should be just as normalized as going to the doctor when our bodies are ill or hurt.

And just as parents teach our kids to call 911 in an emergency, families now have another three-digit number to call when they need mental health support. 988 is Oklahoma’s new mental health lifeline, providing resources and aid in the midst of mental health crises or helping to prevent them. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services oversees 988 as part of its comprehensive crisis response system.

“When parents don’t have the range or resources to support a mental health crisis or they are seeing persistent or alarming behaviors, we are here to respond and provide stabilization,” said Sheamekah Williams, director of children, youth and family services for ODMHSAS. “We also believe in prevention and intervention. We don’t want kids to have to wait until they are in a crisis state to get help.”

What is 988?

When individuals call or text 988, they are connected with trained behavioral health professionals who can help with mental health emergencies, provide guidance for a mental health situation, connect callers with local resources or provide insight on how to navigate concerns for a friend or loved one.

The free, confidential, nationwide service is available 24/7/365 to people of all ages. The number replaces the 11-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number after mental health and suicide prevention advocates asked Congress for an easier-to-remember number for individuals in crisis.

About 80 percent of individuals across the nation who call or text 988 get the help they need over the phone (and here in Oklahoma, more than 90 percent of individuals get the help they need over the phone, according to ODMHSAS). But for those who need additional professional help, dispatchers or mobile crisis teams can set up appointments and arrange transportation to nearby Urgent Care and Crisis Centers for rehabilitation services, counseling, medically supervised detox, psychiatric emergency intervention and inpatient care.

While some safety and health issues may warrant a response from law enforcement and/or Emergency Medical Services (namely when a suicide attempt is in progress), the 988 coordinated response is meant to promote stabilization and care in the least restrictive or invasive manner.

How can 988 help my family?

While 988 does field a large number of calls related to self-harm or suicide, resources and services extend beyond these types of crises. Callers can discuss their own mental health struggles or those of someone they know or love.

Parents can call or text to get help with a wide range of situations for themselves, their children and other loved ones including: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic violence, relationship and family problems, self harm, suicidal thoughts, paranoia and psychosis, emotional distress, financial stress, stress surrounding sexual orientation, loneliness and more.

Some examples of why local parents could call 988 include but are not limited to:

  • Your child is refusing to go to school or come out of their room and/or showing signs of depression.
  • Your child is displaying behaviors that are alarming, has had a run-in with law enforcement or is hanging out with others who are a negative influence on their behavior or self-esteem.
  • Your child is exhibiting self-harm behaviors or you find disturbing information or evidence that they may be engaged in self harm.
  • You or your child needs self-care resources or coping strategies to help with anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition.
  • You’d like to set up a same-day or next-day appointment with your closest mental health provider, for you or your child.
  • You are witnessing a loved one or community member experiencing a mental health crisis.
  •  You or a loved one needs an appointment at and/or transportation to a nearby Urgent Care and Crisis Center that can provide rehabilitation services, counseling, medically supervised detox, psychiatric emergency intervention and inpatient care.

Any situation you deem as a mental health crisis for yourself, a loved one or a community member OR for which you need resources or support to keep the situation from becoming a crisis.

Know the signs

One in 10 Oklahoma students attempted suicide in the past 12 months, according to ODMHSAS. Know these important warning signs that suggest an individual is at risk for suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Researching ways to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

If you are concerned someone you know or love is considering ending their life, call or text 988 and a local operator will guide you in how to safely help. If you or someone you know needs urgent help, call 911.

988 in Oklahoma

The 988 Mental Health Lifeline launched in Oklahoma in July 2022. When individuals with an Oklahoma-based area code call or text, they are connected with mental health professionals here in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma operators have fielded more than 22,000 calls since the lifeline went live six months ago, according to Solari Crisis and Human Services, the operator of the local 988 call center. January 2023 saw the largest number of calls in a month to date, with 3,466 calls received. A little more than a fourth of calls related to self-harm or suicide, 16 percent to coordination of care and 16 percent to depression.

Metro parents can take extra comfort in knowing when they call they will be connected with local, trained behavioral health therapists experienced in helping children and youth. If families need more help than can be provided over the phone, a mobile crisis team, also experienced in working with children and youth, can be deployed to the home so trained professionals can help de-escalate, stabilize and provide resources to support the situation and family. While 988 is new, Oklahoma’s statewide mobile crisis teams available for children and youth through ODMHSAS have been providing critical services for the past five years.

“Our model is a gold standard for other states in terms of mobilizing crisis teams for children and youth,” said Heath Holt Hayes, chief communications officer for ODMHSAS. “When parents don’t know what to do or how to cope, these treatment providers not only stabilize the situation in that moment, they also help set up longer term care.” 

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a 10-month series of articles and podcasts with ODMHSAS. Find the full series at metrofamilymagazine.com/mental-health


The 988 Mental Health Lifeline is designated as a three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 Mental Health Lifeline operates 24/7 and offers services for mental health crisis calls. Operators are licensed and certified health crisis specialists who answer calls and connect to and dispatch local services and mobile crisis teams. For more information, visit 988Oklahoma.com.

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