Santa Clara County teams up with Valley Transportation Authority to address mental health needs

High-profile ads on public transit are latest addition to yearlong campaign encouraging residents to use new service for mental health and substance use crisis support

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. — The County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department (BHSD) has teamed up with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) as part of a high-visibility, multi-lingual campaign to raise awareness about critical mental health services. The campaign aims to let the community know that they can access mental health crisis and suicide prevention services any time –   24 hours a day, seven days a week – by dialing 988.

The new ads – including a wrapped bus and placards inside and on VTA vehicles, and at transit stops throughout the county – promote the County’s Crisis and Suicide Prevention Lifeline (CSPL). Ads highlight the new CSPL number as easy to remember and easy to dial; the number to call when you are having a mental health crisis or are concerned about someone else who may need help. The ads also include an 800 number, for people with phones from outside the 408, 650 or 669 area codes, that gives them direct access to the County CSPL.

“The 988 lifeline makes it easier than ever to access the kind of critical help that is needed for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Susan Ellenberg. “Unlike many communities, Santa Clara County has staffed mobile crisis teams to respond in the field when necessary – a tremendous resource that ensures residents get the right kind of help in situations where traditional emergency services may not be appropriate.”

VTA Chief System Safety Officer Aston Green said public transit can play a key role in getting the word out about 988.

“Local transit vehicles can act as rolling billboards to get widespread messaging out to the community that there is hope and help for those in crisis,” Green said. “VTA is proud to partner with the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department to amplify messaging around 988 services.”

The partnership is the latest effort in a yearlong campaign that started last fall, featuring online, television, radio, and social media ads. The campaign has rolled out in phases, each focused on a different community in Santa Clara County, including those who speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog, and Farsi. These communities are reached through native language ads online, on social media, television, and radio, as well as in print. Promotional materials in each campaign language have been, and continue to be, distributed to the public through community partner organizations and county school districts.

The 988 lifeline is staffed 24 hours a day, every day, with teams of trained counselors who can offer support by phone or an in-person response, depending on the nature of the situation. Since its unveiling in mid-July, more than 15,000 calls have been handled by 988 crisis counselors. However, County officials said they expect calls to 988 will increase in the coming months as more people learn about the service. Call data indicates that among the 911 operators in Santa Clara County, 3,000 to 4,000 calls each month could be diverted to 988 crisis call centers. 

“Mental health issues are universal to all segments of society and are nondiscriminatory – you will find them among all ages and ethnicities, regardless of socioeconomic status and geographical location,” said Sherri Terao, Director of the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department. “It is critical that we get the word out to the whole community, some of which may be harder to reach than others since they do not rely on traditional media outlets for news and information.” 

Calls to 988 are confidential and not identified. Callers can request in-person response. The goal of the CSPL is to de-escalate situations by phone, and in-person response is only used in about 3% of calls received. 

“Our approach will always be to take the lowest level of response possible given the need and nature of the crisis,” said Bruce Copley, Director of Access and Unplanned Services for the County BHSD. “The lifeline will provide quick, compassionate and fitting support for people experiencing a crisis that could result in harm to themselves or others. This can often be done through a phone consultation, with referral and connection to ongoing support as needed. If it requires in-person contact, we have teams to best facilitate such a response without aggravating the situation.”

A national 988 model was rolled out last July that focuses on suicide prevention. While the campaign is tied to the national effort, the County’s lifeline goes further. In addition to supporting those in suicidal crises, 988 in Santa Clara County supports those experiencing other emotional or mental health distress such as feelings of fearfulness, or other mental health or substance use crises. Loved ones and others can also call 988 if they are concerned for someone else. 

Callers seeking mental health and substance use crisis support should know:

  • The 988 service is free, anonymous, and confidential, with no information shared unless in-person dispatch is requested. 
  • 988 is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by trained counselors.
  • Language interpretation is available in more than 200 languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Tagalog.
  • In-person response is available if needed from the County’s unique mobile crisis teams, made up of crisis clinicians and peer outreach specialists to help callers; services that both involve or do not involve law enforcement are available.
  • The lifeline also serves as a connection point for County Behavioral Health Services and community-based organizations.
  • Calls to 988 are routed by area code; if the phone used does not have a 408, 650 or 669 area code, the Santa Clara County service can be accessed by calling 1-800-704-0900 and pressing 1. The same 800 number can be used for non-emergency calls to County Behavioral Health Services regarding general mental health and substance use treatment services information and referrals.

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