988 Tribal Mental Health Summit educates community

Nine-eight-eight. It's an emergency line for mental health services that's been around for about a year now.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:58 PM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Nine-eight-eight. It’s an emergency line for mental health services that’s been around for about a year now. Today’s 988 Tribal Mental Health Summit focused on getting people to remember that number, which holds special significance to Zachary Blackowl, 988 Community Outreach Specialist for the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

”What makes the job so personal and great to me, I’ve actually called nine-eight-eight myself. So, being an advocate, and being somebody that’s actually dialed the three digit hotline and used it for what it was for, it kind of makes everything come together for me as a job goes,” Blackowl said.

One out of every five Oklahomans experience a mental illness each year-- and almost forty-two percent of reported suicides in the state are people fifty or older... But the reason this mental health summit focused on mental health for native americans-- is because it’s a group with the highest numbers of suicides across the country... Monica Johnson works with the federal 9-8-8 program-- and says it’s about understanding.

”It helps to decrease stigma that is often associated with underserved populations and, I mean, all communities of color, just, you name it. So, having these conversations and us being here is meaningful and it helps us not be so removed from the work that we need to do,” Johnson said.

Special invitations for the summit were sent to the 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma for that reason.. Native Americans make up almost ten percent of all suicides-- and part of the conference was about tailoring these services to individuals.

”First off, we know that all services do best when they are culturally sensitive. So, when I want to reach out and talk to someone or go some place for services, it is really important that I am able to connect to people who have, who look like me, who talk like me and have the same culture as I do. So, we’re here to make sure that all Oklahomans have that opportunity,” Slatton-Hodges said.

For Oklahoma, nearly fifty-four thousand kids live with major depression. While the 9-8-8 Tribal Summit aims to talk about how important the helpline is-- the speakers emphasized it’s also about people wanting to understand and show compassion toward others.

”It’s not a weakness, it’s not a sign of weakness, doesn’t make you think you’re less than anybody. I think that’s what really connects us all together as humans, you know? We’re all going through something in our daily lives,” Blackowl said.

”You know, it isn’t just about mental illness. It’s mental health,” Donald Ramos, Project Director for the 988 Tribal Response Grant, said.