New Washington Lifeline Now Available for American Indians and Alaska Natives Facing Crisis – State of Reform

A new Washington lifeline which specifically serves American Indian and Alaska Native callers is now available to help people in crisis.

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The Native and Strong Lifeline, a new feature tied to that of the state 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, went live on November 10th. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) held a press conference Thursday to celebrate the initiative.

DOH Minister of Health Dr. Umair Shah said the line will help prevent deaths from mental illness.

“We know mental illness kills,” Shah said. “And we have lost far too many lives to mental illness. We have lost far too many of our youth because they were unable to reach out in times of crisis. This is the first state in the nation to have this line. Whenever we have community-wide problems and challenges, we must have community-wide solutions. And that’s what it stands for today.”

Rochelle Williams is the Tribal Operations Manager for Volunteers of America of Western Washington (VAWW), which will operate the Native and Strong Lifeline. She said there is now a new culture of healing taking root in Indian communities.

“For the first time, Aboriginal mental health is being highlighted,” Williams said. “[VAWW] is the foundation upon which this important and much-needed work takes place. Historically, as indigenous people, we have been an underserved population when it comes to many things, almost everything but especially our own sanity.

It can feel like the first people of this land always have the last in mind, if anything. No longer. Our needs will no longer go unnoticed. We will no longer remain invisible, not here, not now, never again.”

The Native and Strong Lifeline will have an all-Native staff of 15, including 13 crisis counselors, Williams said.

“There are 13 native crisis advisors who are at the heart of the lifeline and come from many tribal nations,” Williams said. “Most of our advisors have experienced hardship and struggle. They know healing and they know resilience even better.”

Ingrid Ulrey, District 10 Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noted that during his administration, President Joe Biden identified mental health as the defining health issue of our time Address of the State of the Union.

“It wasn’t just words,” Ulrey said. “Behind those words, the President and this administration have increased funding for mental health 18 speed. This federal funding has enabled the expansion of 988, which brings together 200 state and local call centers nationwide, including this call center operated by Volunteers of America and two others in Washington state.”

Ulrey noted that Washington is among just four states that have taken the initiative to mobilize federal funds and collect a fee nominal fee for each telephone line as well as an excise tax to ensure long-term sustainable funding for 988.

SAMHSA recently announced A $35 million funding initiative to connect 988 lifelines to tribal communities and facilitate collaboration with tribal and state providers, municipal Indian organizations, law enforcement and other crisis responders in a way that respects tribal sovereignty across the country, added Ulrey.

“Studies have shown that most people who serve the lifeline are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a trained crisis counselor,” Ulrey said.

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