Communities of color need to be educated about the benefits of using the new national mental health crisis hotline 988, which launched July 16 during National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, says a former White House representative.

“Historically when communities of color are in crisis, we don’t call crisis lines,” says Tonja Myles, 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.

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, Myles said, adding that she felt people of color can now “know that hope is on the way. A better way is coming.”

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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