‘Dial 988′: New suicide prevention hotline launching Saturday

WAFF 48's Jasmyn Cornell reporting
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 7:22 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Starting July 16, people in mental health crises will have a new phone number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The Lifeline is transitioning to a three-digit number, 988, to reach more people in emotional distress or a suicide crisis.

”Today’s crisis response in too many places is a 911 call that often results in trauma or tragedy, and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Angela Kimball, a mental health advocate.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), someone dies from suicide every 11 minutes. It is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Mental health experts are hoping the three-digit number will deliver a breakthrough in assisting people in crisis, who may otherwise try to harm themselves.

SAMHSA says the new line has a $432 million dollar investment from the Biden administration. One goal of the system is to cut down response times and answer more calls.

People who call, text, or chat 988 will be able to reach trained counselors. Counselors at more than 200 centers across the country will listen to people in crisis and provide support, connecting them with other services if needed.

”So, 988 is really a transformational moment in our nation’s response to mental health and suicide prevention, and to achieve its full promise, it’s gonna require long-term commitment and resources to ensure that anyone in crisis has access to quality and compassionate crisis care when and where they need it,” said Colleen Carr, the director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention at the Education Development Center (EDC).

Currently, Alabama has three lifeline centers, which are located in Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile. WellStone, Inc. will be one of the organizations responsible for answering incoming calls to the Lifeline.

WAFF 48's Jasmyn Cornell reporting

According to Jeremy Blair, the CEO of WellStone, it will take time to build a robust calling center, but the organization is in a much better position today than they were four years ago.

”988 is really the beginning of us as a nation, as well as state, in building out our continuum of care, crisis continuum of care, and by that, I mean, we’ve been putting some pieces in place over the last few years with our crisis center [and] our Co-Responder unit,” said Blair.

With the launch of the 988 line, three additional call centers will be added and will cover the North Alabama area. This will allow WellStone to increase the number of trained professionals available to answer calls.

Blair says Governor Kay Ivey and legislators have been preparing them for the launch by funding their crisis centers and mobile crisis teams over the past few years; however, although they have received enough funding to get started, Blair says more work will have to be done.

“We’re going to be looking to D.C., to our senators and legislators there, to step up and really fund this program, fund this system the way it needs to be funded,” said Blair.

Those interested in helping people in a mental health crisis and working with WellStone should visit their website for more information.

SAMHSA officials have developed a 988 jobs website that shows opportunities across the country to help with hiring needs.

After 988 is launched on Saturday, the current Lifeline phone number, which is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), will still be available to people.

If you or someone you know is in crisis now, please call the number above to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The network is available 24/7 across the United States.

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