Dial 988: National mental health crisis hotline launches country wide

The country has a national number that is easy to remember and easily dialed when someone is in a mental health crisis, such as having suicidal thoughts.

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Starting Saturday, people who are having a mental health emergency will now be able to call 988, The Associated Press reported.

Similar to calling 911 for police, fire or paramedics, 988 will connect people with trained mental health counselors.

The service is free for users to call and provides “confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress,” according to the 988 website.

The service works 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When someone dials 988, they will first hear an automated message for additional options while a call is routed to a local crisis center, where a trained crisis worker will answer. They will listen to you to understand what is happening, provide support and get you help you may need.

The lifeline also provides information on specific topics such as maternal mental health, help for veterans, assistance for people in the LGBTQ+ community and even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government has paid more than $280 million to help states set up their systems.

In addition to the hotline, there will be mobile mental health crisis teams that can be dispatched and emergency mental health centers similar to urgent care clinics.

While the system is available, Dr. Brian Hepburn said it will take years to reach everyone who may need help.

Hepburn is the psychiatrist who leads the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.

Some states already had established mental health crisis systems, other areas do not.

The lifeline will build on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that already exists. Calls to that number 1-800-273-8255 will still be answered, even in places where 988 is fully up and running.

In some areas, the 988 number has been running, according to the service’s website.

There is also a shortage of mental health specialists in the U.S., which could also hamper the availability of the services.

A poll of health officials last month showed that fewer than half of them are ready for the launch and influx of 988 calls.

The creation of the 988 line was passed by Congress in 2020 and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the AP reported.

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