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New 988 hotline is the 911 for mental health emergencies

988-Mental Health Hotline
Posted at 9:59 AM, Jul 16, 2022

COLUMBUS — Quick help for suicidal thoughts and other mental health emergencies is now as easy as 9-8-8.

The United States’ first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline goes live today. It’s designed to be as easy to remember and use as 911, but instead of a dispatcher sending police, firefighters or paramedics, 988 will connect callers with trained mental health counselors.

There's been a much-needed push to make reaching out for help easier. According to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS), in 2020 across the nation, one person died by suicide every 11 minutes.

The department reports suicide is the leading cause of death among ages 10 to 34. The department said those who have access to immediate support or lifeline services feel less depressed, less suicidal and less overwhelmed.

“Too often Ohioans in crisis don’t know where to turn for help, and the stigma of asking can keep them from reaching out,” said Ohio MHAS Director Lori Criss, in a news release. “We are working to change all this in Ohio. Moving to a 3-digit crisis number helps increase the visibility of the help available to Ohioans experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. 988 is more than just an easy-to-remember number—it is a direct connection to a compassionate person on the other line who is trained to provide support to anyone in distress – whether that is thoughts of suicide, emotional distress, or substance use crisis.”

Ohio prioritized $69 million to strengthen crisis services. Back in May, Gov. DeWine announced $85 million would be devoted to expanding Ohio’s behavioral health care workforce and help meet rising demands for mental health and substance use.

"Mental health is just as important as physical health,” DeWine said in a news release. “988 is a statewide resource that will quickly connect anyone who needs immediate support or crisis treatment to a trained counselor who can listen and connect them with resources. I encourage Ohioans who are in crisis themselves, or helping someone who is, to call 988 for help.”

Now through 988, all 88 Ohio counties have been equipped with crisis call centers.

Ohio MHAS will monitor call volumes and system needs throughout the first year. The department says it will also continue working with the general assembly to get funding for long-term sustainability of 988.

The 988 system will build on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an existing network of over 200 crisis centers nationwide staffed by counselors who answer millions of calls each year — about 2.4 million in 2020. Calls to the old lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, will still go through even with 988 in place.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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