DC leaders tout mental health hotline offering free support during stressful times

It started during the pandemic, and now D.C. officials say a hotline aimed at helping residents struggling with their mental health isn’t going anywhere.

“We know that those stressors, anxieties, anger, short fuses, call it what you want — it is out there,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday. She argued the spike in violent crime around the region is one reflection of the mental health struggles many are having these days.

“A lot of people, they lost contact with their work, their friends, their churches, their doctors, their services. People … are living with a lot of stress and trauma on the normal and those stresses have been exacerbated.”

DC’s Mental Health Hotline is available  24/7 to help provide people with the help they need before something bad happens. Residents can call 1-888-793-4357 — 1-888-7-WE-HELP — for free support.

“It’s OK,” said Bowser, “to ask for help.”

Mental illness is  “commonplace,” said Dr. Barbara Bazron, the director of D,C,’s Department of Behavioral Health. Nearly one in five American adults are living with a serious mental illness, she said.

About half of chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters by age 24, she pointed out.

“If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or just not kind of yourself, you can talk to someone now to help sort out your feelings and get you the support that you need,” said Bazron. She acknowledged just making the call can often be the hardest part of getting help. “Stigma is a major barrier. We’ve got to move mental health out of the shadows.”

She said there has always been a mental health hotline in the District, but this one in particular came about during the pandemic. It won’t be going anywhere.

“This is a part of our system of care,” said Bazron. “It will go on indefinitely.”

On top of that, within the next year or so the new 9-8-8 will be rolled out around the country offering crisis and mental health support, just like people use 9-1-1 during an emergency.

“The mental health hotline gives people the support they need, when they need it,” she said. “We’re here to listen and respond to mental health challenges before they reach a crisis. Early intervention and early identification is critical.”

“Call,” Bazron pleaded.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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