(WHTM) — The national suicide hotline number will launch a three-digit dialing code on Saturday morning. It is a move many people believe will increase the number of calls the hotline receives and save more lives. But, a recent survey found some centers might not be ready for the influx of callers.
Beginning Saturday, individuals seeking help can call, text, or chat 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in order to get help from a trained counselor who can provide support and connect them with resources if they need it.
“When you hear 911, you think emergency and rescue. Starting tomorrow, when you hear 988, think crisis and rescue,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said Friday.
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A study by Rand Corporation found a lot of local crisis centers feel unprepared for the launch citing funding issues. In Pennsylvania, there are 13 call centers. The state says it is ready and has a backup plan if any of them get overwhelmed.
“We have built an extra safety net. If a call center in Pennsylvania is unable to take a call that is routed to them before it would roll over to the national backup system it first rolls over to a Pennsylvania backup system,” said Kristen Houser, the deputy secretary at the PA Department of Human Services.
Houser said at a roundtable with national officials Friday the state has “been able to increase our in-state answer rate from around 30 percent back in 2017 to about 83, 85 percent.”
K Foley, executive director of the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition, said the new number is crucial for access, especially for the LGBTQ community, which Foley said is especially at risk.
“We need to be able to know that we can call for mental health help and get it,” Foley said. “Currently I’m seeing more, sadly, more people complete suicide.”
Foley said an emergency number specifically geared towards mental health services is important to make sure people in crisis are connected with trained professionals.
“This is if not more important, but as important as 911,” Foley said. “Absolutely imperative that we have a direct response with trained counselors, with trained case managers.”
Foley also hopes the addition of 988 helps send a message.
“That it’s being widely recognized as part of healthcare now is refreshing,” Foley said. “You are never alone.”
It is important to note that the current lifeline number 1-800-273-8255 will also continue to be available even after the launch of 988. The goal of the new number is to provide an easier-to-remember number for those who need help.
People who call 988 will also have the option to reach the Veterans Crisis Line and access resources in Spanish.