By Don Rush
Recently it was announced Michigan had joined the nation in “transitioning” to the 988 dialing code for suicide prevention. If a person is in crisis, they can dial the easy-to-remember 988 number on their phone and talk to trained personnel. What some may not know is the idea for an easier way to get immediate help started at the American Legion Walter Fraser Post 108, on E. Drahner Road.
“Post members Rick Donovan and Darrin Hafeli worked together to make this happen,” Post Service Officer Fred Censullo said. “If someone is suicidal they are not going to remember a 10-digit number they wanted something simpler.”
Hafeli, 45, served in the United States Army during Desert Storm. From 2001 to 2013, he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He served until 2013 while in Afghanistan a rocket blew up the barracks while he was inside.
“Also in 2013, my wife (Amy) and I lost my step-daughter Megan to suicide,” Hafeli said. “It hit us hard. To help heal, as a family we decided to start volunteering at suicide prevention events in her name. We soon realized there’s no way in hell that if you’re in a crisis like that – when you need help, you need it right away — there’s no way you’re going to remember, there were too many digits. We needed something simpler. And, that’s where Rick comes in.”
According to Hafeli, he and Donovan were talking one evening while at the American Legion. “I told him what I was thinking and he said, ‘I got ya. We can do this. I know a lot of people, this is something they’d hook into,’” Hafili recalled.
They then worked fine-tuning the wording for their proposal. “Rick cleaned it up,” Hafili said. They then asked leadership for Post 108, if they could “side-step” the normal chain of command in taking proposals to Washington, DC. Instead of moving from the local post, to Regional and then National command, they went to Michigan Senator Gary Peters.
“He did a fabulous job,” Hafeli said.
Now, if any person is in crisis with then dial 988 they are put in contact immediately with a certified counselor. The program is not just for veterans.
“The 988 number is another step toward strengthening and transforming crisis care and mental health services in our state, which is a key focus of the department,” said Elizabeth Hertel, Michigan Department of health and Human Services (MDHHS) director. “This universal number means no matter where you live or call from, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help. We encourage Michigan residents or their family members to call 988 if they are experiencing mental health-related distress, emotional distress or a substance use crisis.”
According to a press releasee from the MDHHS, in 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This action expands the existing Lifeline beyond people who are feeling suicidal to all individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis, including suicidal thoughts or substance abuse issues.
“Crisis is defined by the caller,” said Dr. Debra Pinals, medical director for Behavioral Health and Forensic Programs, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “And by providing an easy-to-remember number we are making help more accessible and strengthening support to those in need. Trained counselors will be available 24/7 to field calls. They will listen to the caller’s problems, assess their needs and provide support by connecting them with resources, and alert local emergency crisis teams, if necessary. The roll out of 988 as an easier number to remember will provide a natural extension to the already promising work of the department in implementing the Michigan Crisis and Access Line.”
Anyone with these concerns can call:
- Mental health-related distress.
- Thoughts of suicide.
- Substance use crisis.
- Emotional distress.
- There are specialized services available for veterans and other groups.
- People who are worried about a loved one who may need support also can call.
The 988-dialing code does not replace the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK (8255)) or other locally operated crisis lines. Instead, it serves as a universal entry point to connect individuals in need to trained crisis counselors who can help. MDHHS is working to ensure a solid infrastructure is built through coordination with 911 and other crisis service providers as the 988-dialing code launches.
TTY users will be served either through their preferred relay service or by dialing 711m then 800-273-8255.