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US Bids On New helpline Amid Growing Suicide Rate

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The first national three-digit mental health crisis hotline in the United States is about to go live. It will connect people who are having mental health issues or suicide thoughts with qualified therapists.

The 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which will go online on Saturday, is intended to “put crisis care more in reach for people in need,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you,”   Xavier Becerra, the US secretary of health and human services, said in a statement on Friday, adding “Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans.”

“There is still much work to do. But what matters is that we’re launching, 988 will be live. We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success.”

The program is similar to 911, the number used in the United States for physical health and security crises. The launch of the new number coincided with an ongoing effort to link persons going through mental health episodes with mental health professionals rather than sending out armed police officers, which could result in violence and unwarranted arrests.

Congress authorized the new three-digit number for suicide and mental health emergencies in a 2020 measure that then-President Donald Trump signed into law.

In order to facilitate the 988 transition, the Biden-Harris Administration has made “unprecedented investments to support the 988 transition, investing $432 million to scale crisis center capacity and ensure all Americans have access to help during mental health crises,” SAMHSA said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a program with more than 200 crisis centers around the US, will be built upon by the new system. Even after 988 becomes live, calls to the previous number, 1-800-273-8255, will continue to be answered.

Additionally, potential patients will be able to text the number 988.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, an assistant secretary at HHS, said that the agency is working with the states to make it easier for people to get mental health services.

According to a statement from Delphin-Rittmon, “the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work.”

On Friday, a number of US police departments, government officials, and lawmakers told people to call the new number if they need help.

“On July 16, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number is changing to 988. If you are struggling with your mental health, text or call this number anytime from anywhere in the US to be connected to a trained counselor,” Detroit Police Department said in a tweet.

“Remember, you are not alone.”

Image Credit: Getty

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